Don’t let funding for our water system become a pipe dream
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During the campaign, President Trump frequently described a $1 trillion plan in infrastructure investments to fix crumbling roads, bridges, and airports while creating good-paying jobs. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao also recently outlined several priorities for an upgrade to the country’s infrastructure, suggesting the administration may announce a plan sooner rather than later.

Given the Trump administration’s intention to deliver its first full-year budget to Congress this week, and with apparent plans to deal with infrastructure in a separate bill, we in the water industry want to underscore how important it is to include water and wastewater initiatives in both conversations.

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Water issues once seemed a distant concern to Americans, but today we are grappling with myriad crises — from chronic droughts in the West to fast-growing metropolises in the Sunbelt unable to meet surging demand and clean drinking water challenges. Perhaps more important, as our water mains, pipes and overall systems grow older — many were first built in the early 20th century — the bill for replacing or repairing them could approach $270 billion, according to the latest estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency. 

 

Our ability to provide safe, reliable and cost-effective water and sewer services is vital to the U.S. economy. Clean water is a valuable national asset that can attract new investment in manufacturing, research and development and can help differentiate the U.S. in the world economy. How we manage our water resources is of great strategic importance to every citizen. This investment in our infrastructure is vital to growth, and the federal government needs to play a key role in making those investments.

The president has previously said he may favor tripling the funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, a loan assistance authority for addressing wastewater needs that has proven vital to jumpstarting key projects. He has also shown support for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, a federal-state partnership to help ensure safe drinking water.

These are both strong starting points — as is this month’s announcement that the EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program will provide $1 billion in credit to finance over $2 billion in water infrastructure investments — but a longer-term, more comprehensive infrastructure bill is necessary to repair and replace America’s many aging water and wastewater systems.  

Investment is also needed for training. About one-third of the current water workforce is eligible for retirement, a phenomenon that will slow our efforts to modernize infrastructure and could lead to dangerous quality control issues. State and local governments must work with the private sector, trade schools, community colleges and universities to close this emerging skills gap. 

Not only are these jobs important for our water quality and safety, they’re economic drivers. According to a study from the Value of Water Coalition, for every $1 million earmarked for water projects, upwards of 15 jobs are created, either to support water infrastructure design and construction directly, or in related industries.

And here’s the thing about water-related jobs — they can’t be exported or outsourced overseas. These employees work right here, in cities and towns across America. 

While healthcare, tax reform and the budget dominate the congressional agenda, we believe it is critical that they find the time to take up water-related issues. Creating incentive programs such as tax credits to facilitate water reuse projects, co-digestion and resource recovery would strengthen already existing sustainability efforts. 

Supporting private investment in water and wastewater infrastructure would go a long way to supplement any legislation passed by Congress. Finding the right regulatory balance would encourage innovation by providing incentives for new private investment in green infrastructure and energy derived from the wastewater treatment process.

The American water industry — both the public and private sector — delivers safe, clean water to homes, schools, farms and businesses in cities and towns across the U.S. each day. But the burgeoning infrastructure crisis casts doubt on our collective ability to deliver.   

It’s time for all of us to come together — private companies and local officials, state and federal governments — to make water part of our national infrastructure renewal.  

 

Bill DiCroce (@DiCroceBill) is the president and CEO of Veolia North America, an environmental services provider that solves sustainability challenges in energy, water and waste. He has spent 32 years in the energy industry. 


 

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