Infrastructure: Buried No Longer

The massive investment needed for buried drinking water infrastructure in the United States totals more than $1 trillion between now and 2035.

The need will double from roughly $13 billion a year today to almost $30 billion (in 2010 dollars) annually by the 2040s and the cost will be met primarily through higher water bills and local fees, according to a new AWWA report.

“Buried No Longer: Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge” is a call to action for utilities, consumers and policy makers, and recognizes that the need to replace pipe in the ground “puts a growing stress on communities that will continue to increase for decades to come.” The new report includes more than 35 tables and graphs detailing information by region and utility size.

Key findings in “Buried No Longer” include:

  • The needs are large. The cost of replacing pipes at the end of their useful lives will total more than $1 trillion nationwide between 2011 and 2035 and exceed $1.7 trillion by 2050.
  • Household water bills will go up. Although water bills will vary by community size and geographic region, for some communities the infrastructure costs alone could triple the size of a typical family?s bill.
  • There are important regional differences. The growing national needs affect different regions in different ways, with growth concerns greater in the South and West, and replacement concerns greater in the Northeast and Midwest.
  • There are important differences based on system size. As with many other costs, small communities with fewer people to share in the costs face the biggest challenge.
  • The costs keep coming. Infrastructure renewal investments are likely to be incurred each year over several decades. For that reason, many utilities may choose to finance infrastructure replacement on a “pay-as-you-go” basis rather than through debt financing.
  • Postponing investment only makes the problem worse. Postponing infrastructure investment in the near-term would raise the overall cost and increase the likelihood of water main breaks and other infrastructure failures.

Still Time to Act

The $1 trillion investment necessary through 2035 does not have to be made all at once. There is time to implement asset management plans and set rates that more closely reflect the cost of water service.
“The needs uncovered in ?Buried No Longer? are large, but they are not insurmountable,” said AWWA Executive Director David LaFrance. “When you consider everything that tap water delivers – public health protection, fire protection, support for the economy, the quality of life we enjoy – we owe it to future generations to confront the infrastructure challenge today.”

Link to full AWWA report: ?Buried No Longer: Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge.”

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