Governors and Obama Should Make Water Infrastructure a Top Economic Stimulus Priority

Green solutions for clean water and flood protection save money, create jobs, improve public safety

December 2nd, 2008

Amy Kober, American Rivers, 206-213-0330 x23 

Philadelphia, PA — American Rivers today called on the National Governors Association and President-elect Obama to make green solutions for the nation’s water treatment systems, sewers and levees a top economic stimulus priority that will save money, create jobs, and improve public safety. Governors from 40 states are meeting with the President-elect today to discuss economic stimulus measures including infrastructure investments.

“If the economic stimulus plan doesn’t include significant investments in green solutions for our water infrastructure needs, a once-in-a-century opportunity will be lost,” said Betsy Otto, vice president for strategic partnerships at American Rivers.

Our country is fast approaching a crisis point when it comes to clean water. The nation’s sewer systems, pipes, and levees are outdated and crumbling, and global warming threatens communities with more floods, droughts and waterborne diseases. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently graded the nation’s dams a D, and wastewater and drinking water systems a D-, the lowest grades of any infrastructure category. 

American Rivers applauded the National Governors Association and its chairman, Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell, for including investments in drinking water systems, flood control, and water reclamation in its economic stimulus recommendations. But while the NGA proposed $15.2 billion in water infrastructure investments, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that fixing the nation’s water infrastructure will cost at least $277 billion, and not fixing it will cost even more.

American Rivers urged the governors and the President-elect to invest in green infrastructure solutions to cost effectively stretch investments in water. Green infrastructure can help supply clean water, reduce polluted runoff, stop sewer overflows, and minimize flooding and thus enhance community safety. 

Green infrastructure incorporates both the natural environment and engineered systems and provides a wide array of benefits. It means planting trees and restoring wetlands, rather than building a costly new water treatment plant. It means choosing water efficiency instead of building a new water supply dam. It means restoring floodplains instead of building taller levees.

“We need to invest more in water infrastructure, but we need to invest more wisely, too,” said Otto. “Making significant, strategic green investments in our water infrastructure will save money, create good jobs, and give our country a head start on an important new sector of the economy.”

Green infrastructure creates jobs in many sectors that can’t be outsourced, including plumbing, landscaping, engineering, building, and design. Green solutions also support supply chains and the jobs connected with manufacturing of materials from rain barrels to permeable pavement.

Many forward-looking cities are already embracing green infrastructure, including New York, Chicago, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Toledo, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia, as well as many others.

The following core principles should guide water infrastructure funding so that proven, cost-effective green solutions are chosen instead of old, outdated, costly approaches:

Nature works best: Rivers, streams, wetlands, floodplains, and forests provide a suite of critical services like clean water and flood protection, and should be viewed as essential and effective components of our water infrastructure.  The reason New York City has great quality tap water is because the city invested in water protection by purchasing land around its Catskills reservoirs rather than by building expensive treatment plants. That strategy ensured that polluted run-off from roads and lawns doesn’t enter the water supply and saved the city over $6 billion in capital and maintenance costs.

Don’t waste money: Spending money wisely means investing in multi-purpose solutions that lower costs and provide more benefits. Recently, the City of Indianapolis announced that by using wetlands, planting trees, and disconnecting downspouts to limit stormwater flows into its combined sewer system, the city will be able to install much smaller sewer pipes, saving over $300 million.

Enhance community safety and security: Traditional infrastructure isn’t designed to handle the increased floods and droughts that come with global warming, so we need a modern approach to protect public health, safety, and quality of life. Green solutions give communities the flexibility and security they need. Napa, CA solved flooding problems by choosing to restore the Napa River’s natural channel and wetlands, rather than lining the river with concrete. The effort has protected 2,700 homes and prevented $26 million in flood damage each year.

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About American Rivers

About American Rivers

American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 200,000 members, supporters, and volunteers.

Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Find your connections at AmericanRivers.org, Facebook.com/AmericanRivers, and Twitter.com/AmericanRivers.