October 21 is Value of Water’s 6th annual Imagine a Day Without Water, a national education campaign to highlight how water is essential, invaluable, and in need of investment.
As communities across the U.S. face the COVID-19 public health threat, water and wastewater systems continue to do their job to keep water flowing, despite doing so with antiquated systems, technology, and infrastructure.
It is no secret that investment in our water infrastructure is lacking, and disruptions will become more common as water systems age. Pipe breaks increased by 27% between 2012 and 2018 and are expected to increase by 600% in 20 years if we do not increase investment in our systems.
At the current rate of replacement, it would take roughly 200 years, or double the useful life of pipes, to replace the entire water system. If funding needs and infrastructure investment trends continue, the annual gap will grow to $136 billion by 2039. Over 20 years, the cumulative water and wastewater capital investment need will soar to $3.27 trillion.
This underinvestment can be attributed to the failure of traditional financing mechanisms to meet the level of need. Rates are kept low to maintain affordability, and available revolving funds make up only a small fraction of the nation’s total water spend, ultimately leaving a chronic funding gap when it comes to infrastructure maintenance and upgrades.
While infrastructure modernization is a complex and critical issue, the water industry must simultaneously address other increasingly important challenges:
Investing in water can create cascading economic benefits, from raising GDP to creating jobs and increasing wages. If the U.S. covered half of the capital investment needs, it would generate more than 700,000 jobs, raise wages by $2 trillion, and increase GDP by $3.5 trillion above baseline projections. As we face the largest economic recession in a generation, investing in water provides a path to economic recovery.
Creativity, engagement, trust, and stepping out of comfort zones will be required for the water industry to upgrade their infrastructure to build a resilient system to deliver affordable and high-quality water to customers in the face of climate change. A lack of available clean water would be a public health and safety crisis, and solving these challenges is going to take consumer, utility, and government support.
Our team discusses these challenges and trends, and how water utilities can best take action. Read the report.