By Peter M. Moore, PE, F.ASCE, F.ACEC, F.FES, LEED AP, ENV SP Candidate for 2023 ASCE President-Elect
During the pandemic, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released the 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. Of the 17 categories, three were dedicated to water. Drinking Water, Stormwater, and Wastewater received grades of C-, D, and D+, respectively. ASCE’s accompanying Failure to Act study summarized that by 2029, funding for the three combined categories needed to be $1.045 trillion. As a reminder, $611 billion is currently funded, leaving a gap of $434 billion. The recent Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) helped that gap a little more, with $55 billion in funding. Unfortunately, that still leaves a gap of $379 billion in additional funding needed by 2029.
Where does that leave the future of the water industry in the U.S.? It leaves a highly fractured industry drawing funding from states, counties, municipalities, private utilities, and other interest groups. All utilities operate as businesses in some form or another, but as water infrastructure becomes privatized, it begs the question: Is access to clean drinking water, well-managed stormwater, and wastewater a fundamental right?
During the Great Recession, I watched as government stimulus poured through State Departments of Transportation (DOTs), because the DOTs already had a proven process for distributing funding through their respective territories. In a similar fashion, DOTs build annual work programs because they have dedicated funding sources, in most cases being a gas tax which mimics the federal gas tax in some fashion.
A similar recurring funding mechanism is needed for the water industry. Water and wastewater funds are typically created using consumption-based rate structures, and in some states, stormwater has become a utility with user fees. What about another structure that helps equitably fund baseline funding for all water projects? The question should be: How do we build that same structure distribution process for allocating monies at the federal or state levels for water projects?
Drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater provisions and management are critical to urbanization. If we worked together for a solution to tie dedicated funding to the real estate transactions that allow for urbanization, potentially dedicating a portion of the document tax associated with these transactions could provide the source of the funding. Since the funding is tied to urbanization, then the allocation formula should also consider the minimum densities required to trigger such funding.
The point is, water is just as important, if not more so, than transportation. Water should be looked at on a regional and statewide basis. There is a Secretary of Transportation at the federal level, so why isn’t there a Secretary of Water?
With a 25-year career designing and constructing drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater systems, I believe our transportation systems, airports, ports, dams and levees, energy systems, schools, and open spaces make our country thrive, but our water systems are fundamental to life itself, not just quality of life. It is time to put water on the main stage.
As a candidate for President-Elect of ASCE, I’m committed to all aspects of infrastructure and the profession of civil engineering. I believe that by focusing on improvements in accountability, advocacy, and accessibility, everyone will prosper. I hope that if you are an ASCE member and you agree with my focus, you’ll place your trust in me to lead ASCE when you vote in the current election.
Peter Moore is the President and CEO of Chen Moore and Associates (CMA), a multi-disciplinary firm with offices throughout Florida. He received his Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering and Master of Engineering degrees from the University of Florida. In his 25-year career, he’s worked on water projects through Florida, in the Caribbean, Central and South America, and the Middle East.