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Investing in Clean Water Pays

2011 October 27

By Nancy Stoner

Population growth, aging infrastructure, urbanization and climate change are placing increasing pressure on our water infrastructure all across the country, and over the next 20 years, EPA estimates that more than $600 billion will be needed to address water infrastructure problems.

Modernizing the systems that bring us the clean water we depend on every day provides a clear benefit to the environment and public health, but more and more, we’re seeing how upgrading our water infrastructure is a driver for economic growth and job creation. A new report from the non-profit Green for All estimates that a $188.4 billion investment in water infrastructure over the next five years would add $265 billion to the economy and create 1.9 million jobs. And, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said in a recent report that for every job added by water and wastewater industries, three jobs in other industries must be added to support that work in the water industries.

On a recent trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota’s drinking water plant, which is undergoing a $25 million facelift, I got to see how an investment in water infrastructure is already paying dividends and will continue to do so for years to come.

The plant’s upgrade, to which EPA contributed $6.5 million through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, includes a new machine to process residuals that uses far less electricity – about $100,000 worth per year – than its predecessor, according to the plant manager. The machine produces a type of residual that’s easier to ship and will save Minneapolis about $1 million each year in trucking costs, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 150,000 pounds annually. Add that up over the 30 year expected lifetime of the new machinery and you’re talking about huge economic and environmental benefits.

And, the new machine, a filter press, was made in Michigan. Another newly-installed piece of machinery came from Pennsylvania, and new pipes are from Ohio and Alabama. In addition to buying homemade goods and supporting jobs in several American communities, the plant upgrade created the equivalent of 25 full-time jobs over the last two years, and 47 jobs for almost a year when work was at its peak.

The work to modernize the Minneapolis plant – installing new equipment that will cut operating costs and reduce air pollution while creating jobs – is a recipe for success, and it’s all in the name of improving our drinking water.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water and grew up in the flood plain of the South River, a tributary of the Shenandoah River.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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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4 Responses leave one →
  1. armansyahardanis permalink
    October 27, 2011

    Water Infrastructure : Joint Operations With Tidal Wave.-

    To manage water has complicated and needs many survey aspects. But the results are driving for economic growth and job creation. Tidal wave is natural resources and could also make to create them….

  2. Michael Sevener permalink
    November 1, 2011

    I applaud EPA’s dedication and renewed focus on approaching CWA and drinking water issues in a more holistic fashion. This is related to the EPA memo regarding development of an integrated planning framework for stormwater and wastewater management. I hope EPA will recognize the value of decentralized approaches and in particular the value of rainwater harvesting as an important tool to reduce the abstraction of natural waters from their natural environment while at the same time reducing stormwater runoff. I hope that EPA will also recognize that the “zero tolerance” SSO policy that has driven so many consent decrees around the nation is misguided with regard to the elimination of engineered SSO’s. Just as no dam would ever be built without an emergency spillway or pressure vessel without its pressure relief valve, so our sanitary collection systems MUST be designed with adequate means to channel flows in excess of system capacity to the least damaging location.

  3. Tom Jablonski permalink
    November 1, 2011

    If we really want to invest in clean water, then we need to go deeper than simply spending more money to keep our same old water wheel turning. In all likely-hood the money that was spent on the Minneapolis water treatment plant has more to do with providing more capacity to produce water to flush our wastes down the drains, or irrigate our lawns, than it does with providing safe water to drink. If we really want to protect our drinking water, we need to move upstream and reevaluate how we use water. As energy costs go up, and resources used to build complex infrastructure become scare, we can no longer afford to throw technology around in an effort to clean up the water are actions dirtied in the first place. Hiding behind jobs, or improved efficiency is no excuse for allowing are water wasting practices to continue.

  4. Lynn Thorp permalink
    November 2, 2011

    We do need to prevent as much upstream contamination of our drinking water sources as we can and be open to rethinking our water use and management. Thanks Nancy for pointing out that we have to make improvements to our drinking water treatment too and that these can create jobs, reduce energy use and protect public health all at the same time.

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