Earlier this year, President Biden announced his American Jobs Plan – a historic investment that will rebuild our country’s aging infrastructure while also providing millions of good jobs.
The nearly 2.3 trillion-dollar investment will aid in reimagining a new economy and positioning America to be the leader in infrastructure and innovation once again.
Within the total investment, 40 percent will target climate issues and clean infrastructure. In terms of improving infrastructure alone, President Biden’s new plan will:
Fix 20,000 miles of highways, roads, and main streets; rebuild bridges in despair; and upgrade airports, ports and transit centers in the areas that need them most.
$115 billion to repair roads and bridges
$85 billion for public transit
$80 billion for Amtrak
$25 billion for airports
$17 billion for ports and waterways
$44 billion for transformative projects
$20 billion for safety
$20 billion to redress historic inequity (such as reconnecting neighborhoods divided by major roadways)
Rebuild clean drinking water infrastructure by removing all lead pipes and service lines; renew electric grid and cap orphan oil and gas wells; and bring affordable high-speed broadband to all including the 35% of rural Americans who currently lack access.
$101 billion to upgrade drinking, wastewater, and stormwater systems
$10 billion for PFAS remediation
$100 billion for energy grid buildouts
$50 billion to improve infrastructure resilience
$100 billion to improve rural broadband coverage (includes subsidies to make rates more affordable)
President Biden’s American Jobs Plan will be funded by raising the corporate tax rate, part of his ‘Made in America Tax Plan’, which would hopefully pay for the American Jobs Plan within 15 years (if passed alongside each other).
In response to President Biden’s proposed plan, Senate Republicans offered a counterproposal in efforts to improve the country’s aging infrastructure. This plan is solely focused on infrastructure needs and endorses $568 billion for new spending over five years.
The funds will be allocated in the following ways:
$299 billion for repairing roads, highways, and bridges
$44 billion for airports
$61 billion for public transit
$35 billion for drinking water and wastewater systems
$14 billion for water storage
$20 billion for railways
$17 billion for ports and inland waterways
$13 billion for safety measures
$65 billion for broadband internet access
This infrastructure plan would be fully funded, potentially in part through user fees on electric vehicles as well as repurposing state and local relief passed as part of coronavirus aid bills.
President Biden will be meeting with six Republican senators to hopefully come to a mutual compromise later this week.
From May 13-20, the seventh annual Infrastructure Week is taking place with the support of hundreds of affiliates across the country. Infrastructure Week was created to help raise awareness for our country’s growing infrastructure needs and stress the message that we must #BuildForTomorrow. Led by a coalition of businesses, labor organizations and policy organizations, this week will unite the public and private sector to send this important message to leaders in Washington and beyond.
No matter where you live, your age, your education, if you drive a car or a truck or take the bus or a bicycle, infrastructure has a profound impact on your daily life. We all have to get around. We all need lights to come on and water to come out of the tap.
Consequently, too much of our nation’s infrastructure is under-maintained, too old, and over capacity. When it comes to water infrastructure alone, we are dealing with a massive network of pipes that are well over 100 years old. In short, droughts in western states have caused wells and reservoirs to fall dangerously low; saltwater intrusion of Florida’s drinking water infrastructure, and dam and levee failures in California, South Carolina, and Louisiana have caused evacuations and put hundreds of thousands of people and homes at risk.
The High Cost of Water Infrastructure
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. A study conducted by the American Water Works Association revealed that the cost to replace our nation’s water infrastructures would cost more than one trillion dollars over the next 25 years.
No state, city, or county alone can tackle the growing backlog of projects of regional and national importance, and Americans get it: more than 79 percent of voters think it is extremely important for Congress and the White House to work together to invest in infrastructure.
For years, near-unanimous, bipartisan support for infrastructure investment has been steadily increasing. Leaders and voters have been rolling up their sleeves to spark efforts in the rebuilding and modernizing of transportation, water, and energy systems. Certainly, large strides have been made as a country, but there is still a lot to be done.
Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) publishes The Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, which grades the current state of the nation’s infrastructure on a scale between A and F. The last survey from 2017 gave tremendous insight into the state of our infrastructure surrounding drinking water, dams, and wastewater.
Drinking Water Infrastructure
The drinking water that we get in our homes and businesses all comes from about one million miles of pipes across the country. While the majority of those pipes were laid in the early to mid-20th century, many are showing signs of deterioration. There are many reasons for a water main to break including localized influences such as aggressive soil and weather conditions, as well as poor design/construction. Approximately 240,000 occur each year, consequently resulting in the waste of two trillion gallons of treated drinking water. Drinking Water received a grade of D.
The average age of the 90,000+ dams in the United States is 56. Nearly 16,000 (~17%) have been classified as high-hazard potential. Dam failures not only risk public safety, they also can cost our economy millions of dollars in damages as well as the impairment of many other infrastructure systems, such as roads, bridges, and water systems. As a result, emergency action plans (EAPs) for use in the event of a dam failure or other uncontrolled release of water are vital. As of 2015, 77% of dams have EAPs – up from 66% in the last 2013 Report Card. Dams received a grade of D.
There are approximately 15,000 wastewater treatment plants across the U.S that are critical for protecting public health and the environment. In the next 15 years, it is expected that there will be 56 million new users connected to the centralized treatment system. This need comes with an estimated $271 billion cost. Maintaining our nation’s wastewater infrastructure is imperative for the health and well being of the 76% of the country that rely on these plants for sanitary water. Wastewater received a grade of D+.
In the water sector alone, it’s clear how heavily we rely on solid infrastructure. If the issues in our nation’s water infrastructure are not addressed, millions of people as well as our environment will be at risk. Many communities around the country are working hard to deliver projects to solve these problems – but there is always more to be done. Reversing the trajectory after decades of under-investment requires transformative action from Congress, states, infrastructure owners, and the American people. Join us this week to help spotlight the continued advocacy and education of infrastructure needs. Afterall, this is the true foundation that connects our country’s communities, businesses, and people.
Turner Falls, MA benefits from $40,000 state grant to improve water system
MARLBOROUGH, MA, January 15, 2018 – Tata & Howard, Inc., a leading innovator in water, wastewater, stormwater, and environmental engineering solutions, was named the principal engineering firm to conduct a water asset management plan and hydraulic study for the water district in Turner Falls, MA.
Turner Falls will soon be able to assess their water inventory infrastructure after receiving a $40,000 grant from the Baker-Polito administration. Turner Falls is one of ten communities in Massachusetts to receive a portion of $388,000 in grant monies from the state to improve the town’s drinking water systems or wastewater systems.
Tata and Howard, will assist the town in completing an asset management plan and hydraulic study, which will including above and below ground reviews.
Working with Mike Brown, superintendent for the water district, the study will include an inventory of water mains, age of pipes, past inspection reports, dates when wells were installed, and water quality tests. “I was very excited to see we were qualified, said Mr. Brown. “Some of our mains are 80-100 years old and could be corroded or built up with mineral deposits.”
According to Karen Gracey, co-president of Tata and Howard, “The grant is specifically for the funding of the plan and study. We are scheduled to begin in February and complete the report by May.”
From the information gathered and analyzed, Tata and Howard will make recommendations for water infrastructure improvements and replacements.
In recent years, water systems have been faced with challenges that are unique to modern times. Our nation’s buried infrastructure is reaching a critical juncture in that it is nearing or has reached the end of its useful life, or is in dire need of replacement due to the presence of lead. At the same time, climate change is affecting supplies, while a burgeoning population is creating a larger demand. And as we increase our knowledge about the dangers of additional contaminants in our drinking water, utilities are saddled with increased regulations that require strict compliance by specific deadlines. Obtaining compliance often requires extensive upgrades or completely new infrastructure, all of which come with a high price tag.
And therein lies the problem. While water systems are facing such a complex set of challenges that require significant expenditure, available capital is quickly drying up. Water systems are seeing their budgets slashed while operations and maintenance costs soar. In addition, funding sources have been dwindling, and President Trump’s 2018 budget aims to slash them even further. In fact, Trump’s proposed 2018 budget completely eliminates the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program. This program “provides funding for clean and reliable drinking water systems, sanitary sewage disposal, sanitary solid waste disposal, and stormwater drainage to households and businesses in rural areas who are not otherwise able to obtain commercial credit on reasonable terms.”1 In other words, lower income rural communities who fully rely on USDA Rural Development grants to fund their water system improvements will no longer have a source of federal funding.
The proposed 2018 budget also budget cuts the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 31%, or $5.7 billion. The EPA provides funding to water systems through its Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) and Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) programs, both of which “provide communities a permanent, independent source of low-cost financing for a wide range of water quality infrastructure projects.”2 Considering that almost all spending on critical infrastructure such as drinking water, wastewater, and transportation is provided by the public sector, these cuts are expected to make a huge impact on available funding for critical water infrastructure projects.
Because working capital is becoming so scarce, it is critical that water systems manage their assets with an eye on efficiency and systematic planning. Asset management is arguably one of the most important strategies for effectively maintaining utilities today and critical to the health and maintenance of water systems. Key components of a utility asset management plan include performing an inventory and condition assessment of the system’s assets, defining level of service goals, identifying critical assets, establishing life cycle costs, and developing a long-term funding strategy. In other words, a successful asset management plan requires a thoughtful, systematic approach that provides for the rehabilitation and replacement of assets over time, while also maintaining an acceptable level of service for existing assets.
Today’s stringent budgets demand precise efficiency and cost-effectiveness, and determining which assets should be prioritized can be a challenge. It is no longer economically feasible to create an asset replacement schedule based solely on life cycle and critical components; rather, utilities today must pinpoint assets that are most in need of repair or replacement in order to stretch existing capital and justify new budget requests.
Capital efficiency planning helps to do just that. Our proprietary Capital Efficiency Plan™ (CEP) methodology combines the concepts of asset management, hydraulic modeling, and system criticality into a customized, comprehensive report that provides utilities with a roadmap for future repair and replacement. The report includes database and GIS representation for each pipe segment within their underground piping system, prioritizes water distribution system piping improvements, and provides estimated costs for water main replacement and rehabilitation. Because each water system has unique characteristics and challenges, our CEP includes a workshop with knowledgeable field staff and managers for each project that helps to fill in data gaps, correct incorrect records, and identify specific issues and critical components that are custom to the system. The results of the workshop provide significant value by improving the quality of the asset data and the accuracy of the hydraulic model. Because the CEP utilizes a highly structured, detailed, and targeted approach, utilities can confidently justify the costs of repairing or replacing those assets most in need of repair or replacement when preparing annual budgets. Our CEPs have assisted numerous utilities throughout New England by providing a practical and easily understandable plan to critical asset repair and replacement, as well as an advantage when it comes to procuring funding. The same approach can be applied to above ground assets as well as wastewater and stormwater systems.
Increasing regulations, climate change, shrinking budgets, dwindling supply, and population growth — these are all challenges that affect the financial capacity of today’s utilities. And with the proposed budget cuts under the Trump administration, water systems will feel even greater fiscal pressure. Competition for SRF funding will intensify, and utilities will be required to definitively justify the reason for their funding request. By combining asset management with hydraulic modeling and system criticality, our Capital Efficiency Plans™ can help utilities to maintain the health and viability of their water systems today so that they can continue to provide safe, clean drinking water tomorrow, and well into the future.
“It is very, very difficult to run a first-class county or city on second-rate infrastructure.” —Commissioner Melanie Worley, Douglass County, CO
Infrastructure. It’s something we take for granted every single day — when we make coffee, flush our toilets, or drive to work. Infrastructure is what keeps our economy moving and our lives healthy. The virtual eradication of water-borne illnesses such as cholera and typhoid fever are the direct result of improved water and wastwater infrastructure, and the economic growth and strength of the past 50 years is due largely in part to our extensive transportation system. Unfortunately, America’s infrastructure is now past its prime and aging fast, and if it is allowed to fall into total disrepair, the long-term negative economic impact to our nation would be devastating.
Infrastructure Week is a grassroots, stakeholder-driven movement whose affiliates span the nation and represent all sectors of the economy and civil society – from local chambers of commerce to labor unions to trade associations and private companies. Together, the coalition is united around delivering to Congress and the American people the core message of Infrastructure Week: Investing in America’s Economy. Infrastructure Week is bringing together thousands of stakeholders in Washington and around the country to highlight the critical importance of investing in and modernizing America’s infrastructure systems, and the essential role infrastructure plays in our economy.1
When we think of infrastructure, our primary focus is frequently on what we can directly see — our transportation system. Admittedly, our roads, bridges, railways, airports, and seaports are in desperate need of attention. Decades of neglect have left us with a crumbling transportation system resulting in productivity losses and safety concerns. One out of every nine of the nation’s 70,000 bridges is considered structurally deficient, and 42% of America’s major urban highways remain congested, resulting in an annual cost of about $100 billion in wasted time and fuel costs. Yes, our transportation system is certainly at risk. However, our water infrastructure is also in critical need of attention, including drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater systems as well as our nation’s dams.
What are some typical tasks in the daily life of the average American? Take a shower, make coffee, prepare meals — maybe run a load of laundry or water the lawn. It is so easy to take these simple, everyday actions for granted, but they all rely on something we largely cannot see: water infrastructure. Water infrastructure isn’t just a few underground pipes. According to the EPA, water infrastructure includes all the man-made and natural features through which water is treated and moved. And while it is all part of the water environment, it is conducive to think about infrastructure in terms of drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater. Drinking water infrastructure includes lands in source water areas, reservoirs and storage, treatment plants, and distribution systems; wastewater infrastructure includes collection systems and pipes, pump stations, treatment plants, and septic systems; and stormwater infrastructure includes catch basins, stormwater pipes, green infrastructure approaches that infiltrate and manage water where it falls, and land management practices that keep runoff from adversely impacting surface water or groundwater.2 And let’s not forget dams. The U.S. has over 84,000 dams, 14,000 of which are considered high hazard, meaning that failure of the dam would likely cause the loss of life. Even more concerning is the fact that funding is simply not available for inspection and maintenance. For example, South Carolina has 2,380 dams, and the state employs only one full-time inspector and one half-time inspector to inspect them all.
Infrastructure Report Card
So how does our nation’s infrastructure rate? In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issued a report card giving an overall grade of D+, with drinking water, wastewater, and dams each receiving a D. Hazardous waste also received a D, which is significant because site cleanup is imperative to the safety of our nation’s water supply. The report, which is issued every four years, also noted that in order to bring our infrastructure up to par by 2020, the United States would have to invest $3.6 trillion. And while $3.6 trillion may seem daunting, the cost of allowing the nation’s infrastructure to crumble would be exponentially higher. Effective water infrastructure is imperative for maintaining public health, and a significant component of our nation’s economic viability.
Much of our nation’s water infrastructure dates back to WWII or earlier, with some east coast communities still using pipes that were installed in the late 1800’s. The Clean Water Act passed in 1974, and with it the country saw a boom in construction of wastewater treatment plants, many of which are now 30-40 years old, and likely in need of rehabilitation or replacement. The useful life cycle of pipes and treatment plants varies greatly, and is largely dependent on materials used, environment, and upkeep. In fact, some pipes from the early 1900’s are in better condition than those that are half their age. Therefore, it is critical that communities utilize methodologies such as Capital Efficiency Plans™ that evaluate the actual condition of critical components of infrastructure so that they make the most effective use of their very limited infrastructure dollars.
In 2002, the U.S. EPA released the Clean Water and Drinking Water Gap Analysis Report, which compared America’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure needs to the available revenues of utilities. The report showed a projected gap in funding of over $500 billion over the next 20 years. And that’s just straightforward funding. These estimates do not include factors such as population growth or climate change, which will likely increase the funding gap significantly. So where do we start?
Finding a Solution
First and foremost, we must find a way to close the funding gap, which will require a multi-faceted approach. Community outreach and education on the value of water and on our nation’s critical infrastructure needs will be paramount as utilities request higher rates and better conservation practices to implement improvements and meet growing demand. And while rate increases will provide a portion of the much-needed funding, and conservation will help lower demand, utilities will still need to execute careful asset management in order to effectively improve our infrastructure long-term. In addition, implementation of effective management practices will dramatically increase utilities’ efficiency and sustainability. In fact, the EPA and six major professional associations in the water sector came together to develop and advocate an approach through the Effective Utility Management (EUM) partnership, which detailed ten attributes of effectively managed water sector utilities along with a framework for implementation in order to assist utilities with management practices in today’s challenging and complex climate.
But utilities and consumers alone will be unable to carry the full burden of the funding gap, and so we must look to more creative solutions. Already enacted in 2014 as part of the Water Resources and Reform Development Act, WIFIA provides low-interest federal loans for up to 49% of large drinking water, wastewater, and water reuse projects. Another option includes tax incentives for industry to implement water efficiency and recycling/reuse projects. These incentives will encourage more active involvement from the private sector, who many believe hold the key to funding the infrastructure of the future. In recent years, as public funding has drastically decreased while the need for infrastructure improvements has expanded, utilities and governments have become increasingly interested in public-private partnerships, or P3s. Of special note is the fact that the federal government is now encouraging and even providing assistance to the private sector to fund infrastructure. If current trending continues, it seems likely that P3s will hold a significant role in the future of water and wastewater infrastructure funding.
In the United States, we have come to expect and even take for granted safe, clean drinking water at the turn of a tap and wastewater neatly whisked away without giving it a second thought. But if we take a moment to think about our lives without water infrastructure, we quickly realize how much we depend on it, and how important it is to maintaining a healthy, viable economy and country. Therefore, it is imperative that we collectively research and implement innovative ways in which to rehabilitate and replace our nation’s failing water infrastructure.
“For the U.S. economy to be the most competitive in the world, we need a first class infrastructure system,” said the ASCE report. “We must commit today to make our vision of the future a reality—an American infrastructure system that is the source of our prosperity.”
“When the well is dry, we learn the worth of water.” – Ben Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac 1733
World Water Day is March 22, 2015, and the theme is Sustainable Development. But what exactly IS sustainable development? It was first defined by the Brundtland Commission in 1983:
Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
More recently, University of Maryland School of Public Policy professor and former Chief Economist for the World Bank Herman E. Daly proposed the following three rules for sustainability:
Renewable resources such as fish, soil, and groundwater must be used no faster than the rate at which they regenerate.
Nonrenewable resources such as minerals and fossil fuels must be used no faster than renewable substitutes for them can be put into place.
Pollution and wastes must be emitted no faster than natural systems can absorb them, recycle them, or render them harmless.
While sustainable development always includes the global effort to provide clean water and sanitation to the world’s population, it also requires developed nations to implement efficient technologies and to protect existing resources by addressing threats and incorporating conservation strategies into daily life. Consider these facts:
Less than 1 percent of the world’s fresh water is usable in a renewable fashion
The average person requires 1.3 gallons of water per day just to survive, while the amount of water needed for all daily tasks – like drinking, cooking, bathing, and sanitation – is 13 gallons
The average American uses 65 to 78 gallons of water per day for drinking, cooking, bathing, and watering their yard; the average Dutch uses only 27 gallons per day for the same tasks
The average Gambian uses only 1.17 gallons of water per day
America is one of the world’s largest consumers of water, and to do our part towards sustainable development, we must begin by modifying our domestic water usage.
Efficiency – the Most Effective Method of Conservation
By implementing indoor residential conversation techniques, we could meet the water needs of over five million people by the year 2020, and by incorporating efficient irrigation techniques, we could save enough water to meet the needs of an additional 3.6 million people. In addition, if we were to also invest in our nation’s water infrastructure and supply to incorporate efficient technologies to reduce water loss, we would be able to meet all of our domestic water needs — agricultural, industrial, and residential. This would result in easing the stress on our natural resources as well as saving enough water to guard against another concern: climate change.
Climate Change in the United States – An Imminent Threat
Climate change increases the risk of extreme weather, such as droughts and floods, and alters the timing and location of precipitation. For example, climate change has the potential to alter snowfall and snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevada, and Pacific Northwest. Any alteration in snowfall or snowmelt will cause changes in timing and volume of runoff, resulting in flooding in the winter and drought in the summer. In addition, coastal aquifers and water supplies in areas such as Cape Cod, Long Island, the coastal Carolinas, and central coastal California are extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by climate change. Other products of climate change — such as higher water temperature in lakes and streams, melting permafrost, and reduced water clarity — have the potential to critically threaten fish and water-dwelling animals as well harm wetlands and other water habitats. Climate change has the potential to drastically alter our nation’s weather patterns and geological landscape, and any delays in addressing climate change and in planning effective strategies for the impending changes could severely threaten our nation’s water supplies. Clearly, addressing climate change now is one of the key components to sustainable development.
While the global focus of sustainable development needs to be on providing access to clean water and sanitation for everyone, we also need to look within our own borders and change the way we think about water and our natural resources. Unless we institute positive change and focus on conservation by implementing efficient technologies and practices, we will likely find ourselves facing dire consequences. As Dr. Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, stated so eloquently, “The best way to solve emerging threats to the world’s fresh water is by rethinking how we use and manage our scarce resources. We must look at ways to increase our efficiency of use, instead of just building more dams and reservoirs. Improving the efficiency of our water systems, taking real steps to tackle global warming, and opening the policy debate over water to new voices can help turn the tide.”
We couldn’t have said it better.
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