Written by Vincent Caprio

The U.S. water infrastructure is aged and decaying. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Water Innovations Alliance foundation rate the U.S. water infrastructure at a “D-.”  The EPA estimates repairing and updating the water infrastructure at $365 billion. Many pipes were installed prior to World War II and now lead to, on average, 700 water main breaks a day.

Why is this important and critical to address? Say an average community has 55,000 residents and hosts technology and light and heavy industry companies of varying sizes as well as thousands of residential households. The typical family household uses 163,000 gallons per year (156 gallons/per person/per day).  If you factor in the upwards of 3.3 billion gallons of water used by the industrial community, then you can see the impact a safe, secure and efficient water infrastructure has on our economy and future.  Not to mention the billions used for agriculture and food production.

An updated water infrastructure has a tremendous bearing on America’s economy and competitiveness, our health and safety, energy use and home land security. What might this cost?

What if we could target spending efficiently and effectively to upgrade our water infrastructure for greatest impact? And concurrently, we could also lower the more than 4% of our nation’s energy that the U.S. water systems use?  What if we could make them safe from terrorist threats and ensure compliance with the Safe Drinking water Act, protecting our health, environment, property and jobs?

Estimates from the ASCE to upgrade our water infrastructure at upwards of $365 billion.  Others say a “smart water system” can improve the infrastructure for approximately $250 billion.

Water is fundamental to almost everything we do.  Yet why is no one talking about this?  Why are legislators not proposing bills at the local, regional and national level? While the summer drought impacting over 60% of the country is not an infrastructure issue it will radically affect food and energy prices.  Economists at Wells Fargo estimate it might be a $50 billion event as it blends into everything over the next four quarters.

Upgrading our water infrastructure could benefit the U.S. by saving $4.95 million in drinking water and wastewater, reducing water operation costs by 15.4% overall, reduce current water leakage and loss by 26%, save 21.7% in energy consumption to produce drinking water and a savings of 48% in water usage and 34.5% annual savings in energy use over the next two years.

Why doesn’t anyone care? In September, 2011, Hurricane Irene swept through New England causing millions of dollars of damage to our energy transmission infrastructure.  Communities were without power for weeks.  This caused alarm and raised awareness to another infrastructure issue—energy delivery.  Many utilities are now addressing the issue, with plans to upgrade their transmission and distribution systems to be safer and delivery energy more efficiently.

After the hurricane passed, your water still worked (you may have waited a few days for hot water), but you had drinking water throughout the emergency.  Many people think clean, dependable, reliable drinking water is a birthright, and because the pipes (as old as they may be) are 20 feet underground are working and will continue to work just fine. Water main breaks are rare in most communities, so the system must be working just fine.

Water infrastructure is a looming crisis and one that needs to be addresses for our economic health homeland security health and livelihood.  Not addressing it now is an accident waiting to happen.