Website Focuses on Water Infrastructure

A century ago, the average American used only about 10 gallons of water a day to drink, cook, clean, and bathe.

Apr 1st, 2006

A century ago, the average American used only about 10 gallons of water a day to drink, cook, clean, and bathe. Today, Americans use 100 gallons a day per person on average. At the same time, the average American household spends only $474 per year on water and wastewater charges, yet spends an average of $707 per year on carbonated soft drinks and other noncarbonated refreshment beverages.

Those factoids are taken from an EPA Office of Water web page devoted to building and maintaining Sustainable Water Infrastructure for the 21st Century. Included on the site is a wide variety of articles, guides and case studies aimed at improving the management - and sustainability - of water systems.

The site builds on four “pillars” needed to insure a sustainable infrastructure: better management; efficient water use; the watershed approach; and full cost pricing. While all are important, in my opinion full-cost pricing is key in this age of tight budgets and growing need.

There’s no question the water infrastructure in the US is aging. We’ve all heard about the huge infrastructure funding gap expected over the next few years. While there has been a push for the past several years to increase federal funding for water, that’s unlikely to happen any time soon.

Ultimately most of the funding for water and wastewater systems must come from revenues generated by the fees charged by utilities. Full cost pricing must take into account all costs, past and future, including building, operating and maintaining the required infrastructure.

One key consideration is that price reflects value in people’s minds. Too often, something that is cheap is considered to have no value. For water customers, that can lead to waste and harm conservation efforts.

“...it is important for prices to reflect the increasing scarcity of water. Part of this value includes the increasing financial obligation needed to maintain our water and wastewater systems’ infrastructure,” the agency states on the site.

The EPA website provides information on the role of prices in supporting water system infrastructure, including a discussion about the types of pricing structures commonly used today. Recent additions to the site include a guide entitled “Setting Small Drinking Water Systems Rates for a Sustainable Future.” And the document “Case Studies of Sustainable Water and Wastewater Pricing.”

The Sustainable Water Infrastructure for the 21st Century web page can be found at http://www.epa.gov/water/infrastructure.

February Column followup:

My Viewpoint column in February on the “water war” targeting agriculture elicited more response from readers than any column I’ve written in my 11+ years as editor of WaterWorld.

Several people pointed out that water subsidies for farmers might keep food costs down, but they also help perpetuate wasteful water practices and discourage conservation. The cheap water also has led to the production of “water thirsty” crops in a desert region - while at the same time driving farms in more suitable regions of the country out of business.

Water subsidies for farming in the arid west, particularly in California’s Central Valley, is a thorny topic. I’ve done a fair amount of reading since that Viewpoint was published, but haven’t arrived at any conclusions. On one hand I see the need for water conservation and more realistic farming practices. At the same time, I still feel that water subsidies have helped US farms remain competitive with foreign food producers.

In a perfect world we would have enlightened water-use practices that yield maximum benefit with minimum waste - both on the farm and in the cities. Maybe one day we will actually get to that point.

James Laughlin, Editor

More in Infrastructure Funding
Potable Water Quality
WaterWorld Weekly Newscast, April 29, 2019