By US Water Alliance

March 22, 2021

This year, our country faced an enormous public health crisis. The coronavirus pandemic demonstrated the critical role that water and wastewater systems play in communities—protecting public health, safeguarding the environment, and making a healthy economy possible. On World Water Day, together we can take this opportunity to notice the way that water systems impact our lives and to commit to ensuring a sustainable water future for generations to come.

To ensure a sustainable, equitable, and resilient future, we can look to the One Water approach, an approach that envisions managing all water in an integrated and inclusive manner. One Water is something that anyone can embrace, you don’t need to be an engineering or water systems operator—One Water is for everyone. The hallmarks of One Water are a mindset that all water has value, a focus on achieving multiple benefits, and a systems-thinking approach. One Water starts with the recognition that all water has intrinsic value—that all water can and must be managed carefully to maximize its benefit.

The One Water approach also recognizes that the resources at the state and community level do not match the level of investment needed to achieve a sustainable water future. In the US alone, the federal government needs to invest a total of $109 billion per year in water infrastructure over the next 20 years to close the water infrastructure gap. If current underinvestment continues, businesses will become less competitive, household costs will increase, the country’s GDP will shrink, and public health will be put at greater risk. The reality is that America’s water and wastewater infrastructure is aging and deteriorating. Between 2012 and 2018, the rate of water main breaks increased by 27 percent, reaching an estimated 250,000 and 300,000 per year. This is equivalent to a water man break every two minutes.

The cost of failing to invest in water infrastructure is tremendous. But if the United States proactively invests in water infrastructure and closes the water infrastructure investment gap, we all would see multiple benefits. According to economic research conducted by the Value of Water Campaign and the American Society for Civil Engineers, closing the water infrastructure gap would cause the US GDP would grow by $4.5 trillion. Closing the gap would also create 800,000 jobs and disposable income would rise by over $2,000 per household.

But it’s not just important to close the water infrastructure investment gap—the US also need to address the major gaps in water access across the country. The nation’s public health will continue to be put at risk if the federal government does not address the reality that 2 million Americans live without basic access to safe drinking water and sanitation. This number includes 1.4 million people in the United States who lack access to indoor plumbing. And the water access gap is not experienced evenly—race is the strongest predictor of water and sanitation access in this country.
The US Water Alliance, in partnership with DigDEEP, conducted research that shows African-American and Latinx households are nearly twice as likely to lack complete plumbing than white households, and Native American households are 19 times more likely. The research also show that poverty is also a key obstacle to water access. But access to water infrastructure shouldn’t be determined by race or socio-economic status. A central component of One Water is the inclusion and engagement of all. One Water strategies seek equitable outcomes and work to address the reality that low-income communities and community of color are often disproportionately impacted by water challenges.
This World Water Day, we have an opportunity to not just share out what water means to each of us individually, but to also learn more about the water realities facing communities in our country and abroad. We at the Alliance invite you to join the conversation online with #WorldWaterDay to see how our partners, members, and supporters are celebrating water today and every day.