U.S. water, wastewater infrastructure graded by National Report Card

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Reston, VA, March 19, 2013 -- The Report Card for America's Infrastructure, a comprehensive assessment of the nation's infrastructure across 16 sectors, was released on March 19, 2013, by The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Updated once every four years, this year's Report Card found that America's cumulative GPA for infrastructure rose slightly to a D+ from a D in 2009, including the solid waste, drinking water, and wastewater sectors.

Drinking Water systems improved slightly to a grade of D. Frequent water main breaks, pipes and mains that are frequently more than 100 years old are reaching the end of their life cycle and require significant investment, and continue to account for the low grade. Wastewater systems also improved slightly to a grade of D as capital investment needs for the nation's wastewater and stormwater systems are estimated to total $298 billion over the next 20 years.

Dams and hazardous waste systems remained unchanged at a D because of the increase in the nation's aging and high-hazard dams as well as the undeniable success in the cleanup of the nation's hazardous waste diminished by a severe budgetary shortfall for Superfund and brownfield site cleanups.

Levees earned a near failing grade of D- in part because the U.S. does not have a levee safety program. Public safety remains at risk as roughly $100 billion is needed to repair the nation's estimated 100,000 miles of levees that increasingly are protecting developed communities. Lastly, solid waste systems earned the highest grade of a B-. In 2010, Americans recycled 85 million tons of the 250 million tons of trash generated. This represents a 34 percent recycling rate, more than double the 14.5 percent recycled in 1980.

"A D+ is simply unacceptable for anyone serious about strengthening our nation's economy; however, the 2013 Report Card shows that this problem can be solved. If we want to create jobs, increase trade, and assure the safety of our children, then infrastructure investment is the answer," said ASCE President Gregory E. DiLoreto, P.E.

The Report Card estimates total investment needs at $3.6 trillion by 2020 across all 16 sectors, leaving a funding shortfall of $1.6 trillion based on current funding levels. Further, renewed efforts in cities and states, private investments, and federal funding are all pertinent keys to improving national infrastructure.

For the first time, the 2013 Report Card includes information for all 50 states and highlights specific initiatives and innovations that are making a difference. For example, Oklahoma created a plan to replace or rehabilitate over 950 structurally deficient bridges between 2013 and 2020. Philadelphia implemented a program to improve resiliency and address combined sewer overflows using green infrastructure, capable of capturing water from all but the most severe storms.

"We must commit today to investing in modern, efficient infrastructure systems to position the U.S. for economic prosperity," added DiLoreto. "Infrastructure can either be the engine for long-term economic growth and employment, or, it can jeopardize our nation's standing if poor roads, deficient bridges, and failing waterways continue to hurt our economy."

The American Public Works Association (APWA) announced its endorsement of the Report Card and also issued a statement to its 28,500 members calling on lawmakers to carefully review the report card findings and recommit to supporting infrastructure initiatives.

"With the slight increase shown in this year’s Report Card cumulative GPA, and with several categories noted for incremental improvements, the Report Card indicates a very moderate upward movement," said APWA Executive Director Peter B. King. "But an overall grade of D+ remains unacceptable. Improving our nation’s basic infrastructure is in everyone’s best interest. Investment and system-wide improvements affect long term growth, employment and strengthens our business climate and global competitiveness."

American Water President and CEO Jeff Sterba sees the findings as further confirmation of the need to update and maintain water infrastructure to ensure resiliency for health, safety, and robust local economies. 

"While much work needs to be done to raise the grade of the nation’s deteriorating water infrastructure, recognizing that a healthy water system truly promotes economic vitality, provides public health, and protects our environment can only improve future scores across the country," said Sterba. "What’s more, investing in water infrastructure development creates good-paying jobs and boosts local economic growth. There is no better time to reinvest in our essential water infrastructure." 

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