The Cracks BENEATH The Street

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 views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.