Report Gives US Water Infrastructure a "D"

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has given a "D" grade to the drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in the US...

by James Laughlin

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has given a "D" grade to the drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in the US, citing a continuing problem with aging infrastructure and inadequate funding for repair and upgrades.

The grade was part of the ASCE's 2003 Progress Report for America's Infrastructure, which examined trends affecting 12 infrastructure categories, including roads, bridges, dams and other public works. According to the report, the nation's infrastructure has shown little improvement since ASCE gave the various categories an overall D+ in 2001.

While drinking water quality remains good, the infrastructure of the nation's 54,000 drinking water systems is aging rapidly, the report's authors said. Federal funding remains flat, while the infrastructure needs continue to increase. There is an annual shortfall of $11 billion needed to replace or rehabilitate facilities that are nearing the end of their useful life and to comply with federal water regulations.

ASCE forecasted a downward trend for our nation's drinking water systems. To counter that trend, the association urged reauthorization of the Safe Drinking Water Act at $25 billion over a five-year period.

The nation's 16,000 wastewater systems also face enormous needs, ASCE said. Some sewer systems are 100 years old and many treatment facilities are past their recommended life expectancy. Currently, there is a $12 billion annual shortfall in funding for infrastructure needs; however, federal funding has remained flat for a decade. Because of this continuing shortfall, more than one third of U.S. surface waters do not meet water quality standards.

America's farmers, fishermen, manufacturers and tourism industries rely on clean water to carry out activities that contribute over $300 billion to our economy each year. However, the challenge to continue providing clean water remains, as our existing national wastewater infrastructure is aging, deteriorating and in need of repair, replacement and upgrading. In fact, EPA has reported that without improvements to the nation's wastewater treatment infrastructure, we face the very real risk of losing the environmental gains achieved over the last three decades since the passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972.

The ASCE recommended reauthorization of the Clean Water Act at $25 billion over a five-year period to help finance wastewater infrastructure improvements. It also called on Congress to pass H.R. 1560, the Water Quality Financing Act of 2003, or S. 170, the Clean Water Infrastructure Financing Act of 2003, at the recommended funding level.

"For more than 15 years, experts studying our nation's infrastructure have sounded a warning," said ASCE President Thomas Jackson. "The infrastructure that supports our economy and quality of life is crumbling and we have failed to invest in the improvements needed to keep pace with our growing population, let alone our increasing demands.

"With the overall grade for our infrastructure a discouraging D+, that means we're sliding toward failure and the prospects for improvement are grim."

For people working in the water industry, the near-failing grade may seem harsh. Despite it's problems, the industry is still providing a safe, reliable service that is taken pretty much for granted by the public. The industry's goal is to maintain the existing infrastructure while improving and expanding to meet the needs of a growing population and increasing federal regulation. And the key to that goal is funding.

Let's just hope that Congress and the White House are listening.

James Laughlin, Editor

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