The latest four-year infrastructure report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers gives improving marks to the country’s water and wastewater infrastructure, but there is still a long way to go.
Last week, the American Society of Civil Engineers released its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, an assessment of the nation’s infrastructure produced every four years.
Given the amount of media attention devoted recently to the country’s crumbling water and wastewater infrastructure because of situations like that in Flint, Michigan, it’s no surprise that the most recent grades for that segment of infrastructure are not good. Drinking water systems were graded at a D, while wastewater systems earned a D+. Officially it was an improvement from the 2013 report card, although small. In 2013, both water and wastewater systems were graded at a D. And that was an improvement over the 2009 report card when they both received D- grades.
“D and D+ are daunting grades, but I am optimistic about our future because I see the innovative work of the members of the US Water Alliance every day,” Radhika Fox, CEO of the US Water Alliance, said in response to the findings of ASCE’s report card. “I want to thank the ASCE for its steadfast work to shine a light on the incredibly important issue of infrastructure investment. It was a topic that was overlooked for far too long, but we believe is starting to get the attention it deserves. This report reinforces the fact that we need to make reinvesting in water a national priority.”
A few notable facts and takeaways from the report:
- There are about 240,000 water main breaks per year, which waste more than 2 trillion gallons of treated drinking water. Leaky, aging pipes are wasting 6 billion gallons of water daily, 14 to 18 percent of each day’s treated water. It’s an amount that could support 15 million households.
- 8,674 (5.5 percent) of the 155,000 active public drinking water systems serve more than 92 percent of the country’s total population.
- Most funding for water and wastewater systems comes from ratepayers and the wide variation in rates across the country show the many factors that are at play in determining those rates. Out of the nation’s largest 50 cities, Memphis had the lowest average monthly water bill at $14.74; Seattle had the highest at $61.43. The range is even wider for wastewater rates. Memphis again had the lowest average monthly sewer bill at $12.72; Atlanta had the highest at $149.35.
- It is estimated that using the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act’s (authorized by Congress in 2014) full financial leveraging ability, $1 into the program can create $50 for project lending.
- 240 million Americans, 76 percent of the population, rely on the country’s 14,748 wastewater treatment plants. By 2032, it is anticipated that 56 million more people will connect to centralized treatment plants over private septic systems.
- More communities are establishing specific utilities to deal with the challenges of handling stormwater — 39 states have one or more stormwater utilities, and seven states have 100 or more stormwater utilities. The number of communities with such utilities has grown from 1,400 in 2013 to 1,600 in 2016.
- About 772 communities in the country still have combined sewer systems.
- The federal government has provided on average $1.4 billion per year over the past five years to Clean Water State Revolving Fund programs. In 2016, that turned into $7.6 billion in assistance, primarily as discounted loans. Local governments spend about $50 billion annually on their sewer systems, half that amount on O&M.
To read more about the ASCE report card, visit www.infrastructurereportcard.org.