'Water for Jobs': How investing in Water Can Put People Back to Work

A new campaign by the Water Environment Federation, launched late last year, is designed to make the business case for infrastructure investment by emphasizing the link between that investment and job creation.

James Laughlin

In these past few years of economic recession there has been a war of words over the benefits, or harm, caused by federal stimulus spending. Some believe, strongly, that the growing federal debt is hurting our economy and future. Others believe that federal spending is critical to keeping the economy moving and from sinking further into depression.

The need for water infrastructure investment is caught up in that battle, for better or worse. It has been rumored that if there are dramatic cuts in EPA's budget, the first area to get the axe would be the SRF program. While various proposals have been floated to fund water infrastructure improvements at the federal level, none have made it through Congress.

A new campaign by the Water Environment Federation, launched late last year, is designed to make the business case for infrastructure investment by emphasizing the link between that investment and job creation. The Water for Jobs: Water Puts America to Work campaign has the support of 17 national partners and 32 WEF member associations, representing more than 30,000 water-quality professionals.

According to the campaign's website, each public dollar invested in water infrastructure has the potential to increase private long-term Gross Domestic Product output by $6.35. They estimate that $1 billion invested in water and wastewater infrastructure can create over 26,000 jobs. The Department of Commerce estimates that each job created in the local water and wastewater industry creates 3.68 jobs in the national economy and each public dollar spent yields $2.62 dollars in economic output in other industries.

On the negative side of that equation, unless new investments are made by 2020, campaign organizers predict unreliable and insufficient water infrastructure could cost the average American household $900 a year in higher water rates and lower wages; American businesses can expect an additional $147 billion in increased costs and the economy stands to lose 700,000 jobs.

Every four years the American Society of Civil Engineers releases its Report Card for America's Infrastructure. The last report in 2009 gave America's water infrastructure a D-. ASCE has said that a dearth of current investment in water infrastructure will significantly boost future costs, with the gap between actual and needed investments rising to $90 billion per year by 2040. The society's next report card is due out this March. Sadly, I don't expect our water infrastructure grade to have improved. I just hope it hasn't gone down a grade.

The Water for Jobs campaign is designed to send a unified message to elected officials that infrastructure investment must be a top priority. I urge everyone involved in the water industry to take the time to write a letter to their congressman. Better yet, give them a call or arrange a personal meeting if you have the chance.

The Water for Jobs campaign website, waterforjobs.org, includes an "Act Now" page featuring an "outreach tool kit" to help you contact your representatives in Congress. It also includes contact information for the Democratic and Republican leadership in both houses. It might help to remind them that both the 2012 Republican and Democratic National Platforms included water infrastructure investment language and referenced its positive impact on job creation, economic growth, and the health of our nation.

James LaughlinJames Laughlin, Managing Editor

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