AWWA study finds investment must triple to refurbish aging water pipes

The results of a national AWWA study found that the nation must invest an additional $250 billion to replace aging drinking water infrastructure over the next 30 years, at a cost of as much as $6,900 per household.

Washington, D.C., June 19, 2001 — The results of a national study conducted by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) on the nation's drinking water infrastructure found that the nation must invest an additional $250 billion to replace aging drinking water infrastructure over the next 30 years, at a cost of as much as $6,900 per household.

AWWA's study was conducted in 20 utilities nationwide and was the first comprehensive assessment of drinking water infrastructure needs ever performed.

"The utilities in this study represent the best in the business; they were chosen in part because they are so well-managed," said AWWA Executive Director Jack Hoffbuhr. "By studying these best case scenarios, we come to understand what we must do to maintain a reliable drinking water infrastructure for all of us."

The report finds that spending on pipe replacement must triple over the next 30 years in order for the nation to maintain a reliable, high-quality drinking water infrastructure. The American drinking water infrastructure network spans more than 700,000 miles, more than four times longer than the National Highway System. Because construction techniques and materials used for drinking water pipes changed over the years, pipes from different eras have different life spans and therefore differences of when they must be replaced. As a result of these differences, most utilities across the country will have to confront a convergence of replacement needs over the next several decades, as pipes laid a century ago, in the 1920s, and the-post World War II era all need to be replaced over a relatively short period.

AWWA's study was the first to analyze specific utilities' infrastructure replacement needs, rather than relying upon survey-based estimates, to forecast national infrastructure investment requirements over the next 30 years. Using specific information about pipe age and break rates from 20 of the nation's largest utilities, the AWWA report found that the nation needs to invest another $250 billion to replace aging drinking water mains, valves and fittings, at a cost ranging from $550 - $6,900 per household.

These costs do not include the $12 billion already being spent every year by utilities on infrastructure replacement, or spending to meet new federal standards for drinking water, or concurrent needs to replace sewer pipes and to meet new discharge requirements for stormwater. Those costs represent hundreds of billions of dollars more, according to municipal sewage officials and the National League of Cities.

AWWA today recommended water utilities and government at all levels usher in a new partnership. The new partnership requires utilities to promptly assess their infrastructure situations and use those assessments for a review of rate structures with their local governance bodies. This process must be buttressed by increased financial assistance from states and Congress, and become available in streamlined mechanisms that allow for easy, universal access.

"This report proves that inaction is simply not worth the risk to our health and livelihoods," concluded Hoffbuhr. "Together, we must shoulder the burden required to upgrade the infrastructure so important to us all."

For more information, refer to the complete report available at: http://www.awwa.org/govtaff/infrastructure.pdf.

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