Our national water infrastructure is failing – who pays for the needed repairs?

Circleofblue.org, a journalistic website that focuses on water resources & their relationship to food, energy, and public health, has recently published a new article, “America’s Water Infrastructure Shows Its Age – The National Debate About How To Pay For Repairs” that does an excellent job covering many important things to know regarding the current state of our country’s drinking and wastewater infrastructure problems. This article highlights the fact that hundreds of billions of dollars nationwide are needed for renovations and improvements, but many questions remain as to what to do and who is going to pay for it.

philly green

This artist’s drawing shows what downtown Philadelphia might look like when their “Green City, Clean Waters” program is completed. The Vine Street Expressway, on the right, is partially covered with park-like “caps.” The Philadelphia Convention Center, in the upper left, is shown with solar panels on an undulating green roof.
Photo: www.phillywatersheds.org.

Specific examples discussed include Atlanta and Philadelphia. Philadelphia, like we’ve mentioned before on our blog and also on our Other Green Cities page, is planning a 25-year program to manage its stormwater with green infrastructure, and Atlanta is making progress on curtailing their sewer overflows via a sewer repair program and a sewer tax that is up for renewal this month.

However, numerous cities are still inundated with outdated equipment and poor decisions. The largest municipal bankruptcy in our country’s history occurred in November 2012 in Jefferson County, Alabama, and is tied to corruption, financial mismanagement, and poor investments in its sewer system.

Communities face many challenges when trying to fix their water infrastructure, including:

  • Increasingly strict national water quality standards,
  • Uncertainty about how to adapt to climate change,
  • Questions about new green infrastructure approaches that may not have regulatory standards established yet,
  • And population growth (or decline) that impact rates for ratepayers.

Compounding the problem is that federal assistance for water infrastructure has been declining since the 1970s, so most of the funds to operate and invest comes from ratepayers who use the system, no matter how many or few there are in a community.

The article concludes with a more in-depth discussion of financing for water infrastructure.

After you read the article, tell us what you think! How would you like to see us address our water infrastructure deficiencies here in Pittsburgh?