Water Infrastructure Leads America to a Crossroads In Protecting Our Most Essential Resource

By Marc Lucca, Aqua Pennsylvania President

America is at a crossroads for protecting our most essential resource: water.

The state of the U.S. water infrastructure system was a conversation long overdue, but it took the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, to bring the issue to the forefront. Now, municipalities around the country are grappling with the question of how best to pay for water infrastructure upgrades necessary to replace aging infrastructure and to meet ever-changing regulations. More regulations are likely to come after the Flint crisis. A recent New York Times article noted that the more than 1 million miles of pipes that make up our country’s water and sewer systems will reach an average age of 45 years by 2020. Our cities and towns already are financially strapped. Can we expect them to resolve water infrastructure and regulatory compliance problems before it’s too late and another crisis hits?

Aqua doesn’t think so, and we certainly don’t want to wait around to see what will happen. We need to move to protect our customers.

U.S. water infrastructure is a looming crisis

A Brookings Institution study from 2016 found that 88 percent of Americans believe action needs to be taken to solve the U.S. water infrastructure problem. Yet only 17 percent of utilities are confident they can cover the cost of current services through rates and fees — let alone considering the cost of upgrades.

And upgrades are desperately needed. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) reported that leaking pipes cause us to lose more than 6 billion gallons of treated drinking water each day. The ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card noted that 240,000 water main breaks occur each year and that a $1 trillion investment is needed to maintain and expand service for increasing demands over the next 25 years. These facts caused the ASCE to give America’s drinking water infrastructure a D grade.

We don’t have much time to solve our water infrastructure issues, and each day that we waste is more money that will have to be invested to solve the problem.

Can cities, towns and authorities afford the $1 trillion investment needed to fix drinking water infrastructure issues? It doesn’t seem feasible without forcing these entities to make tough choices, such as tax increases, rate increases and cuts in other services.

Utilities follow rigorous treatment standards

Infrastructure is only one issue facing cities, towns and authorities. Many struggle to meet the standards required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the Safe Water Drinking Act (SWDA) due to the resources required.

The SWDA sets national health-based standards for drinking water to protect against all naturally occurring and manmade contaminants, and these treatment standards required by the SWDA are increasingly stringent. To comply with standards and regulations, utilities must conduct assessments of water sources to see where they could be vulnerable to contamination, comply with the EPA’s National Primary Drinking Water Regulations and monitor the presence of contaminants, among other requirements.

To ensure compliance with the SWDA and EPA standards and regulations, utilities need dedicated, highly technical resources for treatment design and day-to-day operations. These resources require significant, continual levels of investment, which many cities, towns and authorities cannot afford.

A 2012 analysis of EPA records by American Water Intelligence showed that the largest water companies have “near perfect” records in delivering water compliant with the SWDA. By comparison, the analysis noted that most of the violations from 2007 to 2012 were issued to public enterprises.

How Aqua can help

There’s a simple reason that regulated utility companies, like Aqua, are better at handling your drinking water. At Aqua, it’s all we do.

Aqua has the capabilities and resources to upgrade U.S. water infrastructure systems for current and future needs. Most of the communities served by municipalities or authorities have clean water today, but can they guarantee the same in the future without substantial investment they can’t afford or the technical resources to execute the required capital projects?

Everyone deserves dependable, safe drinking water, and the only way to provide it is with a solid water infrastructure.

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