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Fixing U.S. Water Pipes Could Triple Household Utility Bills

Fixing U.S. Water Pipes Could Triple Household Utility Bills

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.”

Related reading:

No More Single Use Plastic Bottles At Grand Canyon

The Future of Water

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photo: thinkstockphoto.com

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62 comments

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4:48AM PDT on May 22, 2012

In this economy the people can't afford a rate increase on utilities.

6:38PM PDT on Apr 2, 2012

Noted.

9:38PM PDT on Mar 22, 2012

Thanks for the article.

2:46AM PDT on Mar 17, 2012

Saving and protecting water should not be a matter for businesses to decide - it should be regulated by law, and covered by taxes, and not corporate greed.

9:27AM PDT on Mar 14, 2012

And people wonder why I'm SO AGAINST tar sands/shale oil.
It takes MILLIONS of gallons of the precious little potable water we have on this planet to produce this filthy crap!!!!

So not worth it.
Read in the 1990's about CA's Hayward fault when I lived out there; runs from SF to San Jose. Forty years overdue for a 7 or so now. The analysis said that they could get the electric back up to the area within 6 weeks and get the highways cleared within 2 months. The water system that's over a century old? Minimum time to get the toilets running again?
Nine Months!
Save Our Infrastructure now! Expensive? You bet, but how expensive will the alternative be?
(And YES, it should be a PUBLIC utility! I hate when municipalities sell their water rights to private companies! How can people in a community be so DUMB!!)

6:59PM PDT on Mar 13, 2012

Bogus!!! The cost of ONE Trident Nuclear submarine would pay for these upgrades and expansions. Take it from the Pentagon. They do not really need the money. The US spends more than the top 2, 3, and 4 nations combined.

8:07AM PDT on Mar 13, 2012

our local water works is a bit 'political' at the very least...I am not sure how they would handle this 'cancer of the causeways'. I know that where I live, they would wait to fix the pipes!

2:58PM PDT on Mar 12, 2012

Water works, sewers, utilities all should be returned to the public commons under the local/regional government. Profitized in the private sector wth little to no regulations is why we're being sucked dry in this country, big corporations like PepsiCo and Cargill OWN and exploit aquifers, trash waterways. Some things should remain governemnt owned and operated. It's a human right to have safe, clean drinking water.

2:51PM PDT on Mar 12, 2012

Water mains to the house are already privatized around here and we've gotten mail encouraging us to sign up for county approved "insurance" that only costs $5.95/mo and covers up to $5,000 in repair costs. It's the profiteering scam that will make for more m(B)illionaire executives with golden parachutes. But what are homeowners to do but either pay the monthly "protection" (which feels too much like mob extortion) or try to save up and not touch a minimum of $5,000 designated just to the water main.

2:42PM PDT on Mar 12, 2012

But why should we pay more?

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Julie M. Rodriguez Julie M. Rodriguez is an arts, green living, and political writer based in San Mateo, CA. Her work... more
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