From The Editor | October 1, 2013

Water Projects That Will Transform North America


By Kevin Westerling,


Infrastructure needs have never been so great, and yet capital investment is historically low. A handful of strategic water projects may hold the key to kick-starting a new age of infrastructure spending and renewal.

CG/LA Infrastructure recently released its annual list of the Strategic Top 100 North America Infrastructure Projects, but this year’s version took on a new focus, dubbed “Competitiveness Visions.” These are the projects, according to CG/LA President and CEO Norman F. Anderson, that are “not only strategic to the region’s growth, but… will transform North America.”

The emphasis on competition stems from the belief that infrastructure investment and renewal are essential to a healthy economy. The U.S., meanwhile, invests less in infrastructure as a percentage of its GDP — just 1.3 percent — than any other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country. That level of investment is the low point (thus far) of a continuous downward trend that started in 1956, when infrastructure spending as a percentage of GDP was nearly 5 percent.

But wait, it gets worse. We in the water industry are well aware that infrastructure put in place back in Eisenhower’s day (and sometimes much earlier) has reached the end of its useful life, and that population growth only taxes the system more. This fact makes it more worrisome that the per capita spending falloff has been even more precipitous than the 0.04 percent (of GDP) falloff year-over-year for the past 57 years — from 2003 to 2007, per capita investment has declined 3 percent. (Don't be fooled by the low percentage points, by the way, as each one represents billions of dollars.)

In identifying its 2013 Strategic Top 100, CG/LA picked only projects with the potential to grow the economy in North America. Its set of criteria included business opportunity (within the next 3 to 12 months), competitiveness contribution, productivity contribution, job creation potential, and carbon efficiency. Of the 100 projects totaling $435 billion in project value, 12 projects worth $52 billion focus squarely on water. The following table provides detail:

Project Sponsor Stage Value Sector Country State
New Orleans Canal and Pump Station Army Corps of Engineers Construction Began July 2013 $614 Million Water Management USA Louisiana

Morganza to Gulf Levee System

Army Corps of Engineers Planning $10.3 Billion Water Management USA Louisiana
Fall Creek/White River Deep Storage Tunnel Citizen Water Design $389 Million Wastewater USA Indiana
NYC Storm Protection Plan City of New York Concept $19 Billion Water Management USA New York, NY
DC Clean Rivers Program DCWASA Ongoing $2.6 Billion Wastewater USA Washington, DC
Miami-Dade Water and Sewer System Projects Miami-Dade County Planning $1.6 Billion Wastewater USA Miami, FL
Olmstead Locks & Dam Project Army Corps of Engineers Suspended $2.9 Billion Water Transport USA Kentucky & Illinois
Western Area Water Supply Project North Dakota Western Area Water Supply Authority Phase III to Start Construction $230 Million Irrigation USA Noth Dakota
Sacramento Levee System California Department of Water Resources Ongoing $500 Million Water Management USA California
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Water Tunnel California Department of Water Resources Ongoing $14 Billion Water Management USA California
New Cumberland Locks & Dam Army Corps of Engineers Planned $200 Million Water Management USA Ohio & West Virginia
Calaveras Dam Replacement Project San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Under Construction $621 Million Water Management USA California

As seen above, these projects are in varying stages of development; but it is vital, according to CG/LA, that they be approved and built quickly “to re-take our competitiveness.” Follow-through on the Strategic Top 100, which also includes projects in air and freight, mass transit, energy, and surface construction (roads, tunnels, and bridges), is estimated to result in 3.3 million jobs over the next two years and a 1-percent increase in U.S. GDP year over year from 2015 to 2020.

The water industry, in addition to dealing with aging systems, has to contend with a changing environment. Water scarcity and extreme weather — not enough water here, too much there — bring water management to the forefront, as can be seen in the table above. The situation is only going to get worse, so CG/LA is right in advocating for more investment. The report’s stated cause is to bring together business, policy executives, and citizens to rally around “projects that will grow our economy now, and that will serve as building blocks for the next generation.” The longer-term goal is to double capital spending on infrastructure in North America.

Of all the industry segments considered and contained in the report (available here), water is most tied to quality of life — indeed to life itself. By whichever method the necessary projects are financed — be it through WIFIA, public-private partnerships, triple-bottom-line propositions, or traditional capital improvement program (CIP) funding — the work must be done. Otherwise, the next generation alluded to by CG/LA will pay an ever-increasing price, both monetarily and in terms of health and safety.

Should the Strategic 100 listing achieve its goal, the impact projects mentioned will inspire a wave of infrastructure investment and future prosperity. It’s a grand, big-picture plan, but it relies on waiting for awareness and policy to catch up to need. On the local level, action-oriented facility managers can start influencing their policy- and decision-makers right away through good planning and asset management.

We may soon see the transformation of North America’s water infrastructure, but for each individual, the transformation starts at home.

What struggles do you face in gaining approval and funding for infrastructure repair and replacement? What solutions to the issue do you recommend? Share your thoughts below…

Image credit: "090628-F-638," © 2009 Lance Cheung, used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license: