Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) Report Card for America’s Infrastructure depicts the condition and performance of American infrastructure in the familiar form of a school report card—assigning letter grades based on the physical condition and needed investments for improvement. The 2021 Report Card came out this month and the ASCE gave a C- to our drinking water infrastructure. That is up from the D grade in 2019 but still unacceptable. There are no technology excuses for this. We have the smart water technology available today!
Our nation’s drinking water infrastructure system is made up of 2.2 million miles of underground pipes that deliver safe, reliable water to millions of people. Unfortunately, the system is aging and underfunded. There is a water main break every two minutes and an estimated 6 billion gallons of treated water lost each day in the U.S. enough to fill over 9,000 swimming pools. However, there are signs of progress as federal financing programs expand and water utilities raise rates to reinvest in their networks.
According to the ASCE recommendations to raise the Drinking Water infrastructure grade in the U.S., we must:
Triple the amount of annual appropriations to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program and fully fund the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development programs.
Utilities should implement asset management programs, tools, and techniques to evaluate asset condition and risk, and to prioritize capital and O&M decisions; states should provide funding, training, and technical assistance for asset management programs.
Increase utilities’ resilience by integrating smart water technologies such as machine learning software and real time data sensors into drinking water infrastructure systems.
Eliminate the state cap on private activity bonds for water infrastructure projects to bring an estimated $6 billion to $7 billion annually in new private financing.
Increase federal and local support to find, train, and retain the next generation of the drinking water sector workforce to help offset the large number of expected retirements.
Utilities need to conduct revenue forecasting models to determine the necessary rate revenues that reflect the true cost of water that is needed to provide safe, reliable drinking water and more resilient infrastructure.
Develop and fund affordability programs to ensure that low-income and vulnerable communities do not bear a disproportionate burden of rate increases.
Support voluntary partnerships for small community water systems in need.