Aging Water Infrastructure Presents Hefty Tabs, Other Problems For States
By Sara Jerome
Aging water infrastructure in the United States is a top concern for utilities, and states are looking at major outlays to make repairs.
The problem is increasingly pressing. The American Water Works Association (AWWA) recently rated the condition of water infrastructure as the top challenge facing the water industry. Meanwhile, the Water Environment Federation called on Washington this year to make water infrastructure a top national priority.
With state budgets as tight as ever, stakeholders are examining the best ways to fund the problem. For instance, in this white paper published on Water Online, American Rivers explores "financing alternatives" to enable the repairs.
No state is more aware of the issue than California. This year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed it as the state with the most severe water infrastructure needs. Texas and New York followed suit.
The issue presents huge costs to these states.
"California could use $44.5 billion to fix aging water systems over the next two decades," the Los Angeles Times reported. "Texas, at nearly $34 billion, and New York, with about $22 billion, were next in line."
But repair costs are not the only consequence of aging infrastructure. A failure to update water systems leads to a host of other issues, according to a report by the Water Education Foundation.
"Failures in drinking‐water infrastructure can result in water disruptions, impediments to emergency response, and unsanitary conditions that threaten public health," the report said.
The report added that water‐main breaks, which occur approximately 240,000 times annually in the U.S., "damage roadways, undermine buildings, and hinder fire control efforts, while the loss of potable water can also instantaneously shut down businesses and factories."
What is the federal approach to the problem?
The EPA's work on this issue emphasizes research into new technologies to increase efficiency and save money.
"Our research is improving and evaluating promising new technologies and processes. These technologies and processes will reduce the cost and improve water system operation, maintenance and replacement," the agency says.
The agency sees hope in wireless technologies for lowering repair costs in the water utilities space.
"EPA is looking at remote monitoring and wireless technologies for pipe inspections," the agency said. It is also "working on standardizing technical guidelines, data requirements and indicators for condition assessment and inspection."
Image credit: "Mark Taylor," © 2011 Water main break in the 500 block of Hampton Park BLVD on 7/13/2011., used under a Creative Commons Attribution license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en