Aging infrastructure at turning point, experts declare at EPA sustainability event

Communities are at a turning point in financing replacement of aging water and wastewater infrastructure, said a panel of experts on the last day of an EPA-sponsored conference, "Paying for Sustainable Water Infrastructure: Innovations for the 21st Century," March 21-23 in Atlanta, reported the American Water Works Association. It brought together hundreds of water managers, public officials and regulators to explore ways to pay the $300 billion price tag to upgrade the critical resources...

DENVER, CO, March 28, 2007 -- Communities across North America are at a turning point in financing the replacement of aging water and wastewater infrastructure, concluded a panel of experts on the final day of a three-day conference in Atlanta last week, reported the American Water Works Association yesterday.

The March 21-23 event, "Paying for Sustainable Water Infrastructure: Innovations for the 21st Century", sponsored by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority brought together several hundred water managers, public officials and regulators to explore ways to pay the estimated $300 billion price tag to upgrade the huge buried inventory of decades-old water delivery and wastewater collection pipes expected to reach the end of its lifespan over the next three decades.

Moderated by Cleveland Utilities Director Julius Ciaccia, who chairs AWWA's Water Utility Council, the panel included Mayor Kevin Crawford of Manitowoc, Wis.; Kurt Vause from the Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility; and Elisa Speranza, vice president of CH2M Hill.

Speranza, co-author of an AWWA report on sustainable asset management said many communities are at a crossroads at which they must choose to invest in infrastructure replacement or face a crisis in the years ahead. (Speranza is a featured speaker at an AWWA seminar on the topic in Chicago May 17.)

Vause described how his utility instituted an asset management program after convincing customers that the city's annual average infrastructure investment had to increase from $3.6 million to close to $15 million. "If you get out in front of the issue and work with your consumers, you need to have a continuing running dialogue with your consumers," Vause said.

Anchorage is among some 200 utilities using AWWA's Only Tap Water Delivers campaign to communicate the value of tap water service and the need to reinvest in water infrastructure. The utility is placing Only Tap Water Delivers ads in the local metropolitan newspaper and on the sides of buses.

Attendees also heard Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin speak passionately about raising awareness of the need to reinvest in water infrastructure.

Citing Atlanta's recent $4 billion overhaul of the city's aging water and sewer system, Franklin highlighted her administration's success in garnering community support for local taxes and higher rates to pay for the infrastructure upgrades. She explained how a year-long campaign to explain the consequences of inaction helped the local media understand the significance of Atlanta's water infrastructure challenge.

"The lesson in Atlanta's story is not just that we paid for it, but that we turned the corner in people understanding the value of investment in water infrastructure," Mayor Franklin said.

Held at the same time that organizations around the globe observed World Water Day
, the Atlanta conference saw AWWA Executive Director Jack Hoffbuhr address the 2007 focus on water scarcity.

"We often take water resources for granted unless we are living through a drought or when depleted water supplies threaten a community's future," he said. "World Water Day reminds us of our common obligation to effectively manage our most precious natural resource. Water efficiency innovations, conservation, and technologies like desalination and water reuse will continue to grow in importance as we strive to assure safe, sustainable supplies for generations to come."

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Also see:
-- "Sealing Our Buried Lifelines" (AWWA)
-- "Getting to Know Freshwater Algae" (AWWA)
-- "Streamlining Arsenic Treatment" (AWWA)
-- "CH2M Hill's Speranza Receives 2007 Outstanding Service & Honorary Member Awards from AWWA"

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