Design-build method key to rehabilitating water infrastructures

Jan. 28, 2009
President Obama's plan to launch more than 2,600 wastewater, drinking water and sewer system projects as part of his administration's American Reinvestment and Recovery Plan is an important step in addressing the country's serious water issues, today said the nonprofit Water Design-Build Council...

• 7 million Americans sickened annually by contaminated water; Systems deteriorating rapidly as many city pipes age beyond life expectancy

WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 28, 2009 -- President Obama's plan to launch more than 2,600 wastewater, drinking water and sewer system projects as part of his administration's American Reinvestment and Recovery Plan is an important step in addressing the country's serious water issues, today said the nonprofit Water Design- Build Council.

"President Obama and Congressional leaders recognize the urgent need to invest in modernizing America's water system," said Peter W. Tunnicliffe, president of the Water Design-Build Council. "Our water systems are deteriorating rapidly. Water main breaks, sewage spills, aging water pipes, and outdated treatment facilities have created serious public health and safety issues in communities across America."

Scientists estimate that more than 7 million people become ill each year from contaminated water, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. The country's over-burdened and antiquated water infrastructure creates sustainability issues, too. According to the Congressional Budget Office, more than 20 percent of drinking water is lost and 1.2 trillion gallons of storm water and wastewater overflow every year due to leaks and breaks in the 800,000 miles of water pipe and 600,000 miles of sewer lines in the U.S.

Although President Obama has called for 2,680 water and wastewater infrastructure projects with an investment of $15 billion, the U.S. Conference of Mayors has identified 4,029 "shovel ready" projects that could create more than 271,000 jobs in 2009 and 2010 for an investment of $23.4 billion. In addition, the vast majority of equipment and supplies for water projects are made in the U.S., further increasing the immediate economic benefits of these investments.

"Design-build is the most effective project delivery method for getting these water projects started and completed quickly," said Tunnicliffe. With the design-build method, one firm assumes responsibility for design, construction and commissioning. He said that design-build delivery is continuing to grow and now represents about 20-30 percent of all U.S. water and wastewater projects. "Those projects have been easier to manage, faster to implement and often lower in cost than projects using the more traditional design-bid-build approach."

Tunnicliffe said that in recent years legislation has increased the number of water agencies authorized to implement design-build projects. Examples of leading communities that have recently started or completed design-build projects include Cape Coral, Fla.; Carson, Calif.; Detroit, Mich.; Erie, Colo.; Fort Myers, Fla.; Goodyear, Ariz.; Lawrence, Mass.; Seattle, Wash.; and Valdosta, Ga. In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uses the design-build approach for many of its key projects.

Water infrastructure investment is expected to be a significant priority for many years. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the Water Infrastructure Network (WIN) estimate a $300-$500 billion funding gap over 20 years between what is needed to upgrade and repair the nation's wastewater infrastructure and what is being spent.

The Water Design-Build Council is a not-for-profit organization seeking to advance the development and rehabilitation of the nation's municipal water and wastewater systems through the use of the design-build method of project delivery.

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