Billions Pledged to Improve U.S. Water Infrastructure

The White House Water Summit in March drew nearly $4 billion in private capital pledges for efforts to improve U.S. water infrastructure.

By Patrick Crow

The White House Water Summit in March drew nearly $4 billion in private capital pledges for efforts to improve U.S. water infrastructure.

More than 150 businesses and other groups committed to projects and investments spanning a broad range. The event was held in conjunction with World Water Day on March 22.

“Recent events, including record breaking drought in the West, severe flooding in the Southeast, and the water-quality crisis in Flint, Mich., have elevated a national dialogue on the state of our nation’s water resources and infrastructure,” the White House said.

The Obama Administration released a strategy for national drought resilience; said a new model would deliver river forecasts for 2.7 million locations (up from 4,000 now); and said $35 million in federal grants would be offered this year to support water science.

Major corporate commitments included $1.5 billion by Ultra Capital for decentralized water management solutions and $500 million by GE for water and reuse technologies.

The Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) outlined several of its projects to accelerate water reuse innovations. The Water Environment Federation made a commitment to establish a National Green Infrastructure Certification Program for the water workforce. And working with WERF, it will identify, evaluate and demonstrate water reuse technologies.

The U.S. Water Alliance and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission are working to facilitate on-site water reuse. Radhika Fox, CEO of the alliance, said, “With water supplies increasingly strained, communities are looking for new ways to develop and manage local water resources. One of the most exciting paradigm shifts in sustainable water management is the integration of smaller, decentralized on-site systems that treat and reuse water within buildings.”

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies commended the goals of the summit, but added: “The administration’s most recent budget proposal to Congress calls for deep cuts in federal investment in water infrastructure - especially in light of the ongoing situation in Flint. More federal money for water innovation is important, but it should not come at the expense of water infrastructure.”

A survey from the American Water Works Association (AWWA) underscored those infrastructure needs. The association’s annual State of the Water Industry report was built on responses from 1,468 AWWA members or other water professionals.

Respondents rated the health (i.e., soundness) of the industry at 4.5 on a scale of 1 to 7, the same score observed in 2015. Looking forward five years, they projected the soundness of the industry would slip to 4.4, also the same as predicted last year.

The top five most important issues facing the water industry were identified as renewal and replacement of aging water and wastewater infrastructure, financing for capital improvements, public understanding of the value of water systems and services, long-term water supply availability and public understanding of the value of water resources.

AWWA said 30 percent of utility personnel reported their utilities were struggling to cover the full costs of providing services and 11 percent said their systems were not recovering full costs. Also, 38 percent reported declining water sales while 31 percent said sales were flat or little changed in the last 10 years.

“Taken altogether, this means that a large majority of utilities could potentially face issues associated with low or declining water demand if these trends continue while the costs for water services increase,” AWWA said.

About the Author: Patrick Crow covered the U.S. Congress and federal agencies for 21 years as a reporter for industry magazines. He has reported on water issues for the past 15 years. Crow is now an Austin, Texas-based freelance writer.

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