The American Water Works Association, a membership organization for the nation’s utilities, recently released a report predicting a $1.7 trillion price tag over 25 years for repairing drinking water pipes and expanding tap water systems to serve a growing population.
Drinking Water and Sewer Infrastructure Neglected and Underfunded
The 1 million miles of water pipes and other infrastructure America depends on to ensure clean and safe water is crumbling and in need of repair, at the same time city and county budgets for such projects are falling short.
“Every day we rely on seemingly invisible water and wastewater systems to support our quality of life and the nation’s economy, and yet they suffer from inattention and underfunding,” said American Society of Civil Engineers president D. Wayne Klotz explained after ASCE released it’s own estimate in 2009.
Tap Water Pipe Repairs Will Cost Households Up To $550 More Per Year
Because tap water pipes, treatment plants, and water mains are funded primarily from utility bills, AWWA estimates that repair and expansion of drinking water systems alone could add $100 – $550 or more per year to the average household water bills, tripling some bills.
Why such dramatic variation? Different communities have different populations and systems are in different states of age and condition:
“In the most affected small communities, the study suggests that a typical three-person household could see its drinking water bill increase by as much as $550 per year above current levels . . . In the largest water systems, costs can be spread over a large population base. Needed investments would be consistent with annual per household cost increases ranging from roughly $75 to more than $100 per year by the mid-2030s . . .”
Aurel Arndt, general manager of the Lehigh County Authority and AWWA advisory council member says these repairs are “going to challenge many communities, particularly those where they’ve been experiencing economic problems, and also in some places where the population has declined. You have a smaller customer base that has to pay a bigger bill, and that’s never a welcome circumstance.”
Public vs. Private Water Funding
Republican pollster Frank Luntz found in 2004 that 9 out of 10 Americans support federal funding for water but funding levels have fallen. In 1978, the federal government provided two-thirds of the funding for clean water but, by 2007, the federal government’s share of funding had fallen to just 3 percent, according to the research and advocacy group Food & Water Watch.
Food & Water Watch is concerned that cash-strapped municipalities will increasingly turn to private industry to provide essential upgrades as pipes age and populations grow. Privatization brings a host of additional problems, including increased water rates, poor service, and downsized workforces, while taking an essential public resource out of public control.
Delay Will Only Increase Cost of Repairing Drinking Water Infrastructure
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, approximately $55 billion in necessary maintenance and repair of our water and sewer systems was unfunded and undone in 2010 alone.
AWWA Executive Director David LaFrance warns that the longer we put off repairs, the bigger the price tag will be. “The needs uncovered in ‘Buried No Longer’ are large, but they are not insurmountable,” said LaFrance. “When you consider everything that tap water delivers — public health protection, fire protection, support for the economy, the quality of life we enjoy – we owe it to future generations to confront the infrastructure challenge today.”