With much of its 1 million miles of pipes reaching end of life, the mounting costs associated with the repair of the U.S. drinking water infrastructure needs to be countered with innovative solutions in funding and technology. This need was highlighted when the American Water Works Association delivered sobering news in the form of its report, Buried No Longer: Confronting America's Water Infrastructure Challenge. This report states that over the next 25 years the cost of repairing the existing infrastructure will reach upwards of $1 trillion dollars and this figure is only to maintain current levels of service. Other highlights from the report include:
- Investment costs are large and will keep rising — In 2010, the national-level infrastructure investment was $13 billion dollars. By 2040, the investment for replacement alone will be as much as $30 billion dollars annually.
- Household water bills will go up — Currently, most Americans pay less than $3.75 per 1000 gallons of drinking water. Some communities may expect household bills to triple. (As a point of reference, the current cost per 1000 gallons in the U.K. is about $7.95.)
- Cost impact differs by region and by system size — With growing populations, systems in the South and West are challenged more total repairs and more repairs needed sooner. Smaller communities in the Northeast and Midwest have more "pipe miles per customer" and related replacement costs may translate into higher bill increases per household.
- Postponing investment compounds the problem — The more a system degrades, the more prone it is to leaks and breakage. These compromises to water quality and flow can affect public health and safety as well as result in flooding and sinkholes, service disruptions, and resource waste.
With this report in hand, the AWWA is supporting the creation a Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority (WIFIA). Modeled after the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), the intent of WIFIA is to lower the cost of capital for water utilities while having little or no long term effect on the federal budget. The Subcommittee on Water Resources and Enviroment recently conducted a two-part hearing to review financing tools for water infrastructure, at which members of the AWWA testified in support of WIFIA.
While funding solutions are being debated, technical innovations are also underway. Here at Spyglass, we are interested in understanding how aging infrastructure impacts water quality. Once deployed onsite, the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) can automatically analyze water samples over extended periods of time providing water resource managers with real-time water quality data. By providing real-time information, Spyglass enables these managers to better assess the risk of public's exposure to harmful bacteria and toxins.
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