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The Cracks BENEATH The Street

2010 May 25

So, I am sitting in my Project 52, which those of you who spend time on whitewater rivers will know to be a kayak.  The river level is up, which makes for lots of company on the water and the guy I am chatting with asks me what I do for work.  “I work for EPA on water infrastructure sustainability.”  His reaction is typical – no idea what that means.  But he kayaks and has some interest in water and seems up for the explanation.

Most folks I know don’t think much about where their water comes from, where it ends up when it goes down the drain, or the extensive ’infrastructure’ systems that take care of all that.  The ones I have cornered – like that kayaker – now know that those ‘water infrastructure’ systems of pipes and treatment plants are in quiet crisis.  Our utilities have done a great job of providing us with safe water to drink and collecting and treating wastewater before discharge, usually into a nearby waterway (that some of us kayak in).  But many utilities have underinvested in renewing those systems.  And a BIG bill is coming due.

We need to start replacing that stuff at a rate that is sustainable.  I have heard estimates that we replace about 0.5% of water distribution pipes a year.  That would mean we expect those pipes to last, on average, for 200 years.  Not likely.  NOT sustainable…

Nationwide, annual utility revenues are roughly $25 billion less than what a sustainable replacement pace would require.  We can cover a good portion of that through efficiency and I coordinate a slew of programs to help utilities cut costs and make the most of every dollar.  But utility revenues – and so the price of water services – are also going to have to go up to close that gap.

So next time you hear that water or sewer rates might go up, think about how you depend on those services.  Think about how much you spend on cable T.V. or your cell phone (typically MORE than on water services).   Lots of folks have very tight budgets, no question –but if we want to continue to enjoy fabulous water services, we are all going to have to help keep our utilities ….‘afloat.’

To tune in more to the issue, join us at our facebook page:  EPA – Water Is Worth It.

About the Author:   Andy Crossland is the Sustainable Infrastructure Coordinator for EPA’s Office of Water.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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7 Responses leave one →
  1. Brenda-EPA permalink
    May 25, 2010

    Andy, excellent blog. When I go to schools and ask kids if they know where the water that goes down the drain goes…they have no idea. Most people don’t understand the importance of keepin water infrastructure up to date…and not necesarily that of potable water. Wastewater is a hard concept to go by and we need to explain this to children in a more friendly manner.

  2. armansyahardanis permalink
    May 25, 2010

    The water and the sun are interdependence. the human only user. But they hope to us to maintain their product. EPA’s guiding us to be commit to their mission. Do the human sometimes forget it ?

  3. Linda permalink
    May 25, 2010

    Since I don’t live within a city, my drinking water comes from a small, private water authority that I *know* doesn’t have the funding to do all the maintenance they should. I try to help; a year or so back, I called it in when I noticed a persistant wet spot on the pavement a mile or so from my home. They were glad I called; the lady who answered the phone said they had no other way to know about small leaks such as the one I spotted. If it’s not reported, they only find out when the pipes rupture; at that point, the trickle becomes a torrent.

  4. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    May 25, 2010

    We need something like an infrastructure bank to help do the necessary financing for water and sewer agencies that need to rehabilitate their systems but are unable to pay the full amount of the high costs involved. We need to also think of another type of water system–recycled water. Recycled water systems are critically needed to save scarecer fresh drinking water. But the infrastructure for recycled water is in its infancy and needs help in the form of loans and grants for it to fully realize its potential. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  5. Andy Crossland permalink
    May 27, 2010

    Thanks Brenda. I am sure that as a kid I did not know where water comes from or “goes” after it leaves the home. But I really believe that awareness could go a long way :)

  6. Andy Crossland permalink
    May 27, 2010


    Smaller water authorities really do have a very tough job to do with limited resources. We have over 52,000 community water systems in the states, most of which are quite small and work very hard to deliver their service – a service which I think most folks don’t know is quite expensive to provide!

  7. Andy Crossland permalink
    May 27, 2010


    Thanks for the post. As you probably know there is a LOT of talk about how to pay for our aging infrastructure – and an infrastructure bank is one of the ideas that has been batted around. I often have given the schpeil that there are 3 ways to pay for it – fees for service, taxes (which is how an infrastructure bank would work) and efficiency. And while I am continually impressed by the job that water and wastewater systems do for us, there is still a lot of room for efficiency gains. Also, my post touched on the fact that lots of folks dont know where water comnes from or where is goes after we use it. I would go a step further to say… a lot of folks dont even know what they pay for water services. It is just not on our minds because… we dont pay a lot for it.

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