U.S. Water Infrastructure Transformation Needed to Protect Public Health, Safety, and Save Money
American Rivers provides recommendations to House Transportation and Infrastructure CommitteeFebruary 4th, 2009
Andrew Fahlund, American Rivers, 202-347-7550 x3022
Angela Dicianno, American Rivers, 202-347-7550 x3103
Washington, DC — Water infrastructure in the United States is deteriorating and needs a major overhaul to avoid further declines in our clean water supplies and to deal with the more extreme weather that is coming with global warming, American Rivers said today in testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“Water is life. Yet we manage it with 19th Century approaches of overcoming nature rather than with a 21st Century vision that takes the best of the built and natural environments. The new way forward is to work with nature instead of against it. Green infrastructure is gaining favor in cities and counties across America because it is effective, inexpensive, and because it has many other benefits like reducing floods or beautifying communities.,” said Andrew Fahlund, vice president for conservation at American Rivers, who spoke at the Sustainable Wastewater Management hearing before the Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment.
“We need to seriously step up investments in green infrastructure and water efficiency solutions if we are to protect the health and safety of our communities. These projects will also create tens of thousands of good jobs and help boost the economy,” said Fahlund.
Fahlund urged the Committee to promote green infrastructure investments and to hold agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency accountable for fostering green infrastructure solutions in their policies. He also recommended that Congress protect natural infrastructure like wetlands that are critical for clean water by passing legislation to affirm the historic protections of the Clean Water Act. And, Fahlund advised the Committee to require consideration of the climate and energy impacts of all water infrastructure decisions.
In recent years, water quality around the country has deteriorated:
According to the EPA, an estimated 1.8 million to 3.5 million people get sick from recreational contact with sewage from sanitary sewage overflows every year. The level of sewage pollution in the nation’s waterways is predicted to increase to pre-1970 levels by 2025 the highest ever recorded.
The American Society of Civil Engineers gives water and wastewater systems a D-, the lowest grade of any infrastructure category.
In 2006 the EPA found that only 28 percent of the nation’s stream miles were in good condition.
“Investments in green infrastructure and water efficiency will protect clean water, ensure sustainable water supplies, save money, create jobs, and safeguard public health and safety for generations to come,” said Fahlund.
Green infrastructure incorporates natural systems that can help supply clean water, reduce polluted runoff, reduce sewer overflows, minimize flooding and enhance community health and safety. It means planting trees and installing green roofs, rather than enlarging sewers or building a costly new treatment plant. It means restoring floodplains instead of building taller and taller levees. And it means retrofitting buildings and homes with water-efficient plumbing instead of constructing an expensive water supply dam.
These solutions create good jobs. American Rivers estimates that if 600 U.S. cities installed green roofs on just 1 percent of their large roofs, over 190,000 jobs would be created. An economic analysis conducted by the Alliance for Water Efficiency estimates that total economic output per million dollars of investment in water efficiency programs is between $2.5 and $2.8 million. It estimates that a direct investment of $10 billion in water efficiency programs can boost U.S. employment by 150,000 to 220,000 jobs.
Communities across the country are already benefiting from these solutions:
New York City’s $600 million investment in Catskills land protection and restoration saved $6 billion in capital costs to construct a water filtration plant, as well as $200-$300 million in annual operation and maintenance costs.
By using wetlands, trees and residential modifications to reduce stormwater flows into their combined sewer system, Indianapolis is able to reduce the diameter of a new sewer pipe, saving over $300 million, while also beautifying the city.
Clayton County, Georgia constructed a wetland system to receive treated wastewater and recharge reservoirs, and has had a consistent supply of water through the recent drought. While surrounding communities had severe water restrictions and saw reservoirs drop below 50 percent capacity, Clayton County never dipped below 77 percent of reservoir capacity.
“We have reached a crossroads in how we manage our nation’s water,” said Fahlund. “Traditional water infrastructure will continue to play a role, but it is designed to solve only a single problem and requires a huge capital investment. Today, we need green infrastructure solutions that are cost-effective, flexible, and will meet the needs of the 21st Century.”