By John Collins, JCM Industries, Inc.
The need for improving our nation’s critical infrastructure is as important and necessary as ever. Yet, when people who are not involved with the water/wastewater industry think of all that needs to be done for infrastructure, they immediately think of the roads they drive on and the bridges that are simply part of those same roads. Others think of our power grid and its frailties, while some worry about their internet access. It is hard to find people who consider our water and wastewater delivery system as a priority.
While driving to work this morning, I stopped at a common intersection and from there saw a mix-master of bridges, interstate highways, and power lines, but could see only a couple of fire hydrants and the largest water tower was out of view.
This public lack of awareness never really bothered me before, because I have firsthand knowledge of the efforts of so many waterworks professionals who take care of my city’s system and a hundred-thousand like it. But now that infrastructure improvement has moved back towards the top of the political agenda, how does our industry get its fair share of the funds to make the long overdue improvements?
I worry about this because of a statistic I heard recently: only one half of one percent of the nation’s waterlines are being replaced per year. The math is simple, at this rate it will take 200 years to replace just the pipelines that are currently in use.
While touting the longevity of various types of pipe has long been a sales pitch for some companies, there does come a time when these systems no longer meet the needs of the community or, even worse, fail. It may not even be the pipe itself that is the problem. Valves, pumps, and other fittings are also on the list, as well as natural and manmade disasters that could be the culprits that push for system upgrades and expansions.
Yet, outside of those in our industries, who knows about this incredible need? This article appears in a publication that is read primarily by the people who understand what I’m talking about, not a magazine you pick up in an office lobby while waiting on an appointment. Needs of the water and wastewater industry aren't nearly as exciting as reading about the next great technical advance like electric cars or the newest phone.
It seems that nothing short of the Flint, MI, tragedy makes it into the 24-hour news cycle to bring any of our needs to light. So what do we do to bring attention to an industry that is primarily underground or behind locked gates?
We, as an industry, must concentrate our time in making our friends, neighbors, and state and national representatives aware that our water and wastewater needs must be met for both health and safety.
We must do this with our various social media accounts by posting newsworthy events when there is a system failure which forces communities to have to truck in bottled water to drink or drives a hospital to be evacuated.
We need to volunteer to speak at our clubs like Rotary International, Kiwanis, or Lions Club about the importance of an updated system and encourage people outside of our industry to ask our officials what they are doing to make those improvements.
Our nation’s water and wastewater service delivery is more important than all the technologies invented in the last century. While not having increased bandwidth or a wider interstate is an inconvenience, there simply isn’t any life without clean water.
John Collins is CEO of JCM Industries, Inc. in Nash, TX. He is a member of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA) and serves on its Board of Directors. To learn more about WWEMA, go to www.wwema.org.