It’s Report Card Time for our Nation’s Water Infrastructure and the Lesson is Clear

By Dr. Mark LeChevallier – March 3, 2017 – Comment

In school, I never minded taking tests – it was getting them back that was the hard part!  Of course, I can see the value – you are supposed to learn from your mistakes!  So periodically putting yourself to the test is not a bad thing – a time to “show what you got”!  To check in and see if you’ve mastered the subject!  I already admitted in last week’s blog that I wasn’t strong in math – so I benefited greatly from my mistakes!

Still, even getting the test back wasn’t as strenuous as report card time, because then everyone, especially my parents – would know how I was going.  I wasn’t that bad of a student, mostly A’s and B’s, so report card time wasn’t too stressful.  Sometimes the anticipation was more strenuous than the result!

That’s the case with the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) Report Card for American Infrastructure, which has an impact on the health, and future of our country – and comes out next week on March 9th. Thankfully the strain of getting this report card comes only once every four years, but we haven’t been doing very well and it’s hard to imagine that this report card is going to be any better!

The Report Card is on the condition and performance of drinking water/wastewater infrastructure and over the last three Report Cards, which started in 2001, America’s drinking/wastewater infrastructure has received two D- grades and in the most recent, 2013, a D.  These are among the worst conditions of all infrastructure categories studied!  In the last report we went from a D- to a D so maybe there’s reason for a bit of hope!

According to estimates by the American Water Works Association, the price tag for the critical upkeep and replacement of the nation’s outdated water systems is at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years. So, while we know there have been strong steps taken on infrastructure improvements over the past three years on local levels, seeing the impact on the more than one million miles of water mains that exist nationwide in such a short time period would be a tall order.

Regardless of the grade (see the 2017 ASCE Report Card on March 9 here), the messages related to the Report Card remain the same: growing and continued attention to and investment in water infrastructure is imperative. Consider a few of the results of a water systems breakdown and water delivery disruptions:

  • Impediments to emergency response
  • Damages to other types of infrastructure
  • Sanitation issues
  • Public health concerns
  • Not to mention every day needs for business and operations and private living

We’ve discussed many times in this blog that there is no quick fix. With the useful life of some components in water infrastructure being as low as 15 years, there is a near constant need for repair and upgrades. Moreover, we must consider the infrastructure that dates from the 1990’s back to the Civil War era and everything in between—structures on which greater and greater demand is placed as populations expand and water needs skyrocket.

American Water invests more than $1 billion annually to ensure continued safe, reliable drinking water for our customers. We work with other utilities and advocates to help move the needle on water infrastructure from critical to improved. And our customers are already playing an important role simply by paying their water bills and supporting needed improvements. While much work needs to be done to raise the grade of the nation’s deteriorating water infrastructure, together we can address the challenges in local communities and across the country.