Invest In The Future

The impact of water infrastructure investments goes way beyond pipes in the ground.

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There are plenty of good reasons to push for greater investment in water infrastructure.

The long-term cost of replacing old, deteriorating infrastructure is much more palatable than the high and unpredictable cost of continuing to make short-term repairs. Emergency repairs are even more costly, as any of you with aging systems is well aware. These types of repairs aren’t long-term solutions. And the work isn’t going to get any less expensive. The longer we put it off, the more it’s going to cost us. Without greater investment we are also setting up communities across the country for catastrophe – major system failures, significant interruptions in water supplies, financial collapse and a host of other problems.

But there’s another great reason to invest more now, and it isn’t about preventing catastrophe. It’s about promoting prosperity. Jobs.

As I was putting this column together in mid-September, water industry leaders were on Capitol Hill with local, state and congressional officials discussing the economic impact of infrastructure investment. One of the agenda items was a briefing on a recently released study: National Economic & Labor Impacts of the Water Utility Sector.

That study, sponsored by the Water Research Foundation and the Water Environment Research Foundation, examined 30 large public water utilities. Combined, those utilities plan to spend $23 billion per year. The report states that from 2014 to 2023, the operating and capital expenditures of the participating utilities will generate $52 billion per year in total annual economic output across the United States. This results in a national economic contribution of $524 billion over the next decade, supporting approximately 289,000 permanent jobs within the utilities and other industries that are supported by those expenditures. And that’s just 30 utilities.

So in addition to rebuilding infrastructure that’s critical to every aspect of the health and well-being of our communities, these investments are creating jobs and building the economy. It’s everything the economic stimulus program was supposed to be.

The people in San Francisco understand. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, profiled in this issue of MSW, crafted its Water System Improvement Project in response to the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that caused massive infrastructure and property damage. Construction on the $4.6 billion project, which was funded by a bond measure passed by voters, began in 2004 and is now 80 percent complete.

In addition to improving their distribution system and building in seismic protections, the project has created jobs. Lots of them. General Manager Harlan Kelly Jr. says the commission is changing its mantra to “We Create Jobs” to emphasize the impact WSIP and related programs have on the local economy.

Officials from the commission were among the people in Washington to discuss the impact of water infrastructure investment on the economy. And earlier this year, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee helped bring communities across the country together through a resolution that was adopted at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Annual Meeting in Dallas. The resolution called for a renewed partnership across sectors to accelerate investment in water infrastructure in order to drive job creation and economic growth and prepare communities to be resilient in the face of climate change.

Utility and local community leaders understand the value of these investments. It’s time for the federal and state governments to take note and start doing more to fund these improvements. It’s not just an investment in infrastructure; it’s an investment in our future.

Make sure your government officials know what increased funding can do for your community and the country as a whole. Take a stand.

Enjoy this month’s issue.


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