With the latest results from the American Society of Civil Engineers Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, issued earlier this month, it’s clear that the nation cannot ignore our deteriorating drinking water/wastewater infrastructure.
Evaluated and issued every 4 years since 2001, ASCE gave the nation’s drinking water/wastewater a D- grade in both 2005 and 2009, and a D grade in 2013 — among the worst condition of the categories of infrastructure systems studied. This year’s grades of D for water systems and D+ for wastewater systems do not bode well for ensuring the country’s water system resiliency as it relates to health, safety and supporting local economies.
Of course, looking at the grades across the board, help is quite frankly needed everywhere. And while there has been promising talk of increased infrastructure investment being spearheaded from the new administration, those of us in the water industry know that other areas tend to be the ones highlighted. The D-level grades for water are far below the B-level grade for rail and C-level grade for bridges, which typically embody what the public views as infrastructure. Clearly, there are needs in every area of the nation’s infrastructure, but we cannot accept complacency and view the grades on a sliding scale. I would rather us flip this and talk about all the things a reliable water system means for a community from fire protection to agriculture to energy generation, etc.
The price tag for the critical upkeep and replacement of the nation’s outdated water systems is at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years, per American Water Works Association estimates. While this financial challenge is significant, there are solutions, including public/private collaboration from companies like Illinois American Water, which proactively invests $60 to $100 million annually in water and wastewater improvements.
These investments prove their value every day. From projects to replace water mains, pipelines and fire hydrants, and the installation of advanced metering technology to help reduce water leaks, to enhanced treatment capabilities improving efficiency and reliability, the investments we’ve made ensure that we are well-positioned to continue to meet customer needs in the communities that rely on us.
Perhaps the ultimate value of the ASCE Report Card is helping to make our customers aware of the critical nature of these issues, and letting them know they already play an important role in system renewal and future reliability by simply paying their water and/or wastewater bill. By supporting needed improvements, customers and Illinois American Water are working together to keep the water flowing now and well into the future. While much work needs to be done to raise the grade of the nation’s deteriorating water infrastructure, recognizing that a healthy water system truly promotes economic vitality, provides public health, and protects our environment can only improve future scores, in our state and across the country.
Bruce Hauk is president of Illinois American Water.