Investing in Clean Water Pays

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.

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