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Engineers: Water Neglect will Backfire

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

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Skimping now on public investment in aging water infrastructure will cost U.S. homes and businesses $206 billion over the next decade, the nation’s civil engineers are warning.

 Flickr / Christopher Zurcher

 Flickr / Christopher Zurcher

About 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage are discharged each year from treatment systems plagued by aging pipes and inadequate capacity, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

In a pay-now-or-pay-even-more-later conclusion, the American Society of Civil Engineers' Failure to Act warns that today’s $54.8 billion gap between water infrastructure funding and needs will balloon to $143.7 billion by 2040 if current trends continue.

The report, to be released in full soon, is not a political manifesto. It is a “just-the-facts-ma’am” economic analysis of the consequences of deferring maintenance and upgrades on the nation’s 168,000 public drinking-water systems; 20,000 wastewater pipe systems; and numerous wet weather management systems.
 
Funding Gap Grows

The report assumes no major developments in climate change or the regulatory environment, but it does note rapidly increasing populations in the U.S. Far West and Southwest, where water demand is highest.

In an executive summary issued before the full report, ASCE reported a $55 billion capital funding gap in 2010—the difference between the Environmental Protection Agency’s $91 billion recommendation for water system maintenance and upgrades, and the $36 billion that was provided for the strained and sprawling system.

 Annual Capital Gap for Water Infrastructure (in billions of 2010 dollars)

 Annual Capital Gap for Water Infrastructure

If current trends persist, ASCE estimates, that gap will grow to $84 billion by 2020 and to $144 billion by 2040.

“As a result,” the report says, “pipes will leak, the construction of the new facilities required to meet stringent environmental standards will be delayed, addressing the gap will become increasingly more expensive, and waters will be polluted.”

Health and Property Damage

And that is just the plumbing bill. It does not count the costly impact on public health, homes and businesses when century-old water systems fail, rupture and flood, ASCE notes.

For example, the report says, about 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage are discharged each year from treatment systems, due to aging pipes and inadequate capacity.

Over 30 years, waterborne illnesses have cost the nation $255 million in medical treatment, absenteeism and lost labor productivity, ASCE reports, citing studies by EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Breaking Mains and Boiling Water

“We’ve all seen the impact aging water and wastewater infrastructure has on our daily lives,” said Steven Landau of the Economic Development Research Group, the report’s lead author.

“From broken water mains to ‘boil water’ alerts, failing to invest in this vital part of our country’s infrastructure has clear economic consequences.

“The longer we wait to make needed repairs and upgrades, the more acute these problems become, and the higher the costs to American families and businesses.”

   

Tagged categories: American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE); Construction; Corrosion; EPA; Funding; Infrastructure; Pipeline; Wastewater Plants

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