Priming the Pump or Tapping the Well

“The 2009 ASCE Report Card for America's Infrastructure, released Jan. 28 with the heading 'Failing Intrastructure Cannot Support a Healthy Economy' ...

by Carlos David Mogollón, Managing Editor

“The 2009 ASCE Report Card for America's Infrastructure, released Jan. 28 with the heading ‘Failing Infrastructure Cannot Support a Healthy Economy,' puts the investment deficit at $2.2 trillion – up from $1.2 trillion in 2005 – and gives the nation's crumbling public works an overall grade of D, with drinking water, wastewater and waterways all rated a D-.” – American Society of Civil Engineers*
(www.asce.org)

A lot of outrage has been expressed recently about some players in our economic crisis that received “bailout” money and whether some of it has gone to fund retreats or sponsor golf outings or for bonuses or pass-throughs to other companies who may already have received TARP or other federal monies.

I'd like to express a little outrage of my own. Mine's directed at an economic stimulus package billed initially as focusing largely on infrastructure investment long underfunded* to put people back to work and how it could balloon to $787 billion – and yet only $7 billion is targeted at water and wastewater projects. That's not even 0.9 of a percent of the entire package.

On the other hand, my outrage gets a little more piqued when an effort to double that amount is turned back by politicians whose sudden flip-flop toward fiscal conservatism now that the party in power has shifted seems a bit contrived. I can't help being more than slightly disappointed.

An interview with Smith & Loveless President Frank Rebori (see “Executive Corner,”) opened my eyes to another issue, too. He notes many “shovel ready” projects being rushed to fruition may likely be based on raw materials cost estimates from last summer that have since dropped 25% or more – meaning the full value of even those limited dollars dedicated to water and wastewater likely will be diminished. Rebori argues municipalities may be able to stretch those dollars further if their contracts took this into account – which often may not be the case.

Perhaps one of the most lasting legacies of the Great Depression were all the public works projects done as part of various programs meant to get people back to work under FDR's New Deal. My grandfather, who died in 2002, was involved in a number of Works Progress Administration projects from Alabama to Alaska. Even today, you can see WPA initials on sidewalks across America. Buildings were built on the Indiana University campus that I attended with incredible murals also funded by the WPA. There were road and bridge projects, too. The Civilian Conservation Corps worked on irrigation, bridges and trails too, helping to recover historic edifices such as Fort Pulaski near Savannah, GA, and Fort Pickens in Pensacola, FL, both places where I've worked. My wife is an editor for the Western National Parks Association and parks nationwide owe a great debt to these programs, including New Mexico's Bandolier National Monument whose visitors center was built by WPA workers. And in Tucson, where I live now, as you hike the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, you can see bridges with the WPA logo inscribed also.

I recognize that, once a turnaround does occur, an expanding economy will in itself begin to fix a lot of the financial issues we currently face. But I wonder what legacy our generation's efforts to recover from economic turmoil will leave for our grandkids and great-grandkids beyond debt repayment? I'm hoping some of the structural flaws allowed to creep into our economic system in recent decades will be addressed. Beyond that, I'm hoping the water and wastewater needs of our nation are met proactively and sustainably with new ideas that focus on conservation, efficiency and reuse wherever possible.

As such, “Water Reuse” is one of the themes of this issue, and you'll find a couple of articles here that target it, as well as “Pump Optimization” – another theme – including one funneled to us from the Hydraulic Institute. It's also our “Oil & Gas Industry” issue and will benefit from extra distribution at both the OTC show in Houston in May and GO Expo in Calgary in June. On the OTC website, www.otcnet.org, I noticed a new feature, OnePetro, that involves a multi-society library whose collection includes over 10,000 technical papers presented at the conference since 1969. Explore and enjoy.

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