By Kristen Asato-Webb, Program Manager, US Water Alliance

May 13, 2019

As advocates and activists arrive in Washington, DC for the seventh annual Infrastructure Week, flying from airports and riding in on rails and roads, it is important to remember why water matters.
Water is vital to our daily lives, but we too often we take it for granted. That may be because the essential epicenters and lifelines of water infrastructure, our reservoirs, treatment plants, and pipelines, are largely invisible to the public. We rely on this infrastructure every day to keep our communities and environment healthy, our cities running, and our economies growing, but federal investments in the water sector are drastically lower than other types of infrastructure.
Most water infrastructure across the country was built generations ago, has outlived its useful life, and is overdue for replacement and technological upgrades. In the US, where we are putting more stress on our aging water infrastructure than ever before, a water main breaks every two minutes, and we lose six billion gallons of treated drinking water that are lost each day due to faulty, aging, or leaky pipes.
Meeting the water infrastructure gap requires greater investment at the local, state, and federal levels. The federal government was instrumental in the development of water infrastructure over the previous century. And as the country assesses its 21st century water infrastructure demands, there is a need, once again, for large-scale action by the federal government to provide both a national vision for infrastructure and significant funding to support it.
Despite rising capital needs, the federal government’s contribution to water infrastructure capital spending has fallen over the past 30 years from 63 percent of total capital spending in 1977 to nine percent of total capital spending in 2014. In terms of per capita spending on water infrastructure, federal spending has fallen from $76 per person in 1977 to $11 per person in 2014.
In contrast, over the same time period, the federal government’s share of total public spending on transportation infrastructure (including highways, mass transit, and aviation) has stayed constant at approximately half of total capital spending, with the remainder coming from state and local sources.
Regional projects with implications for the national economy aren’t getting the funding they need, putting our health and safety, and our economy at risk. Cities, counties, states, and the private sector are working hard, but need a strong, reliable federal partner to get the job done. Small cities and rural areas can face some of the biggest issues, so this is not a red/blue, or urban/rural issue. It is truly a nationwide issue.
The Value of Water Campaign is proud to be on the steering committee of Infrastructure Week, so we can make sure often-invisible water infrastructure is part of any infrastructure conversation. As more than 500 Infrastructure Week affiliates launch over 100 events nationwide this week, let’s work together to make sure we amplify the conversation about investing in our nation’s infrastructure – including its water systems. Because an investment in water infrastructure is an investment in our communities, economy and lives.
Follow along on social media (@infraweek and @TheValeueOfWater) and join the conversation this week using #BuildforTomorrow.