Apr. 3, 2009 -- Sustainable Critical Infrastructure Systems: A Framework for Meeting 21st Century Imperatives, new from the National Research Council, presents the findings of a May 2008 workshop that brought together experts from academia, government, and the private sector to identify the challenges involved in developing infrastructure -- water, wastewater, power, transportation, and telecommunication systems -- that is physically, socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable.
Although the U.S. invests heavily in the initial development and operation of infrastructure systems, maintenance and upgrades are often insufficient. Deteriorating or inadequate systems can lead to service interruptions and infrastructure failures, the effects of which can be catastrophic, as seen in the Northeast Power Blackout of 2003 and the New Orleans levee failures in 2005. As the national infrastructure continues to age, renewal becomes imperative, although the resources available are likely to be limited for the foreseeable future.
Nevertheless, according to the Research Council's report, renewing and restructuring can provide an opportunity to fundamentally re-examine the current infrastructure and identify practical, cost-effective strategies to provide sustainable systems for future generations. The report lays out a framework for approaching renewal efforts that includes developing a broad national vision, focusing on providing essential services rather than on upgrading individual facilities, recognizing the interdependencies of infrastructure systems, collaborating across institutions and jurisdictions, and providing greater transparency in decision making.