Innovative Infrastructure: The Back Bone of Healthy Communities

green infrastructure

On Tuesday, President Obama kept returning to the importance of investing in infrastructure and encouraging innovation throughout his State of the Union address.

That’s a great idea. Infrastructure systems can encourage economic growth, connect communities, and provide goods and services like safe drinking water. From bridges to water treatment plants, properly functioning infrastructure is critical to healthy communities.

Today, however, many of our infrastructure systems are crumbling and outdated. The President said it himself: “So much of America needs to be rebuilt.” Our water infrastructure systems in particular are in critical need of investment, upgrades, and innovation. In 2009, drinking water and wastewater infrastructure systems received a grade of D minus from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Yet, with these challenges come opportunities to re-think traditional approaches to infrastructure and incorporate innovative strategies that take into account 21st century challenges from increased urbanization to a changing climate. The Hoover Dam might have been the pinnacle of innovation during the 1930s, but today we must look to more forward-thinking and cost-effectiveapproaches to water management.  

Polluted runoff, one of the only growing sources of water pollution in the United States, can be addressed with green infrastructure practices that work by capturing and treating rainwater where it falls. Water efficiency measures that use the water we have more wisely can save money and protect water supplies for communities. Protecting and restoring natural infrastructure, like wetlands and floodplains, provides critical safeguards against flooding and often at a much lower cost than traditional flood protection measures. And there are many opportunities to develop new sources of hydropower – for far less money and impacts to river health than building a new Hoover-sized dam – by reusing existing dams, water supply pipes, and irrigation canals.

In his address, President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to clean water and healthy communities when he said, “I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury pollution, or making sure that our food is safe and our water is clean.” Investing in innovative approaches to water infrastructure will keep our water clean, save taxpayers’ money, and help reduce flood damage.

Making those investments is a critical step towards keeping that promise, Mr. President.