The 105 Billion Dollar Water Bill

According to the Failure to Act report, water infrastructure has only 30% of necessary funding from federal, state, and municipal funding leaving an investment gap of $105 billion. With recent migration of workers to larger cities, these cities and midsize cities with shrinking populations are both facing financial strains in the maintenance of water projects including even cut-backs in routine water quality testing which affect drinking water as well as the quality of water used in farming irrigation and other industrial means.

Drinking Water Scores a Consistent D average in the US

The 2017 Infrastructure Report Card for drinking water has earned a D on performance. Leaking pipes and an estimated 240,000 water main breaks cost the US six billion gallons of treated drinking water each year. Some nanotechnology applications and smart city applications have been developed since many of the one million miles of pipes water were laid in the early to mid‐ 20th century with a lifespan of 75‐100 year.

The report estimates it will take 200 years to replace all the pipes at the current which is not an acceptable timetable. Both infrastructure reports, the Report Card which has carried a D average across all areas of infrastructure and the Failure to Act report, however, do not offer great solutions. Encouragement is given towards private sector investment, but no incentives or industry gains are provided to open to these discussions. Consequently, year after year, many of the infrastructure funding projects which have even been approved Congress have been implemented because there is no funding including funding for drinking water projects.

To begin, some costs could be cut immediately with new scientific data replacing earlier voted on agendas that now find practices like water fluoridation and other added ingredients to drinking water to be harmful to human and animal health including fish. Just as the US has old and leaky pipes, the science governing what establishes safe drinking water is also out of date with many European and Asian countries have already cut water fluoridation. The US has only a small fraction of cities and towns that have voted against this practice. Cutting these and other costs based on new scientific information will help but not at the tremendous scale needed.

New state-building initiatives in the developing world allow for new opportunities to remedy this problem for the next century and a half at least. The Congo, for example, offers tremendous opportunity for water infrastructure development which has not been taken up by either of the Congo’s state benefactors, China and Russia. The US could take the lead on a new era of state-building initiatives in countries like the Congo that offer reciprocal investment opportunities in US water infrastructure from drinking water to dams and levees, inland water transportation, and parks which in the US are responsible for rainwater capture of reservoirs.

This allows direct industry growth for private companies working internationally and in the US with respect to water-related infrastructure heads off potential loss of life and property damage due to agenda items like dams and levees. Dam and levee breaks represent a near threat to the US.

Over 15k Dams in the US Are at High-Hazard Potential

Dams are classified by their hazard potential or anticipated consequences of failure. The classification, high-hazard, is anticipated to cause a potential loss of life. The US currently houses approximately 15,500 dams that are classified as high-hazard potential. Seven out of 10 dams in the United States by 2025, will be over 50 years old with the average lifespan of most dams constructed in the US having a 56-year lifespan. Unless substantial funding goes into immediate effect towards this investment gap in critical infrastructure, the US is looking at mass devastation and casualties in cities and towns caught in the paths of high-hazard dams that could break.

In order to rehabilitate non-federal or privately held dams and federal dams, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates a minimum of $64 billion of investment funding combined. With the current investment rates that place maintenance, repair, and rehabilitation to dams out 50 years, alternative measures for funding are critical. The most critical, or high-hazard, dams represent about $22 billion of that cost. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that more than $25 billion will be required to address dam deficiencies for Corps-owned dams.

Current Government Programs Do Not Deliver Repairs on Levees

With a large number of levees in the US built in response to widespread flooding on the Mississippi River in 1927 and 1937, and after catastrophic flooding in 1907 and 1909 in California, the average age of levees in the US is above 50 years. There are 30,000 documented miles and an estimated 100,000 miles of levees protecting cities and towns from floods and rising water in the US. More than half of the nation’s population live within 50 miles of a coastline and roughly two-thirds of the population live in a county with at least one levee.

In 2014, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) was passed creating a new National Levee Safety Initiative (NLSI). However, the program was not intended to be used for levee repairs, maintenance, or rehabilitation of the infrastructure. Currently, 5% of levees are high to very high risk, 15% moderate risk, and 80% low risk of the 1,200 levee systems assessed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) out of the 2,500 in the USACE program.

However, upon funding allocated by the president, the NLSI will only promote consistent safety standards, create levee safety guidelines, and provide funding assistance to states to establish levee safety programs. This is legislation is redundant considering the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), USACE, and local partners have undertaken efforts to increase coordination across agencies for levee inventories, inspections, safety ratings, and public awareness, including the development of public safety and information programs for U.S. levees spread across multiple jurisdictions.

Therefore, the NLSI should prioritize high to very high-risk repairs and testing for the remaining untested levees within the USACE program and the remaining 15,400 miles of levees in the NLD managed by other federal, state, or local agencies. An estimated $80 billion is needed for levees over the next 10 years.

Parks Capture and Filter Drinking Water and Hold Dams, Railroads, and Roads

Cities like Los Angeles, Portland, Denver, and Atlanta receive a significant portion of their water supply from national forests with an estimated 180 million people receiving their drinking water from national forests and grasslands that capture and filter drinking water. Parks also house roadways, utility systems, dams, constructed waterways, marinas, aviation systems, railroads, ships, monuments, fortifications, towers, interpretive media, and amphitheaters that support local economies and tourism.

The governing organizations responsible for these properties are the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In 2015, the National Park Services (NPS) reached a record high of $11.9 billion in deferred maintenance. Wildfires have absorbed most of the US Forest Service budgets responsible for some of this deferred maintenance. Resulting park closures due to falling safety standards will directly impact the economic sustainability of park and wildlife recreation afforded by visitors.

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