Everyone deserves access to safe, affordable, reliable clean water. Unfortunately, in communities across the country, clean drinking water is at risk. That’s in part because our water infrastructure – including pipes to distribute drinking water and move dirty water to treatment systems – is outdated and in some cases, literally crumbling.
Last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers issued a report card on the nation’s infrastructure. Drinking water systems received “D” grades. And while this puts all Americans at risk, it’s communities of color and lower-income neighborhoods which already suffer from lack of investment and opportunity that feel the worst impacts.
We must bring our water infrastructure up to modern standards – our health, economy and well-being depend on it. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that we need more than $650 billion in water infrastructure investment over the next 20 years just to meet current environmental protection and public health needs.
President Trump is making infrastructure a focus of his State of the Union address on January 30 and he is expected to release a plan for the nation’s infrastructure in the coming weeks. Any successful plan will make real investments in repairing aging water mains and replacing lead pipes, not just offering corporations tax cuts and privatization schemes or rolling back bedrock environmental laws like the Clean Water Act.
It’s also critical that when we invest in water infrastructure, we invest wisely. While fixing old pipes must be on the “to do” list, we should also prioritize nature-based solutions to managing our water resources. These innovative approaches not only deliver clean water, they have multiple benefits for communities – saving money, creating jobs and improving lives.
Nature-based solutions can mean planting trees and restoring wetlands, rather than building a costly new water treatment plant. It can mean choosing water efficiency and conservation instead of building a new water supply dam. It can mean restoring floodplains instead of building taller levees.
These approaches that protect, restore and mimic the natural water cycle have a wide range of social, economic and environmental benefits. Our report “Naturally Stronger” documents how cities including Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Washington, DC are successfully using nature-based solutions to secure reliable water supplies, create good jobs, keep water rates affordable, increase community parks and green space, and reduce flooding.
As President Trump puts infrastructure in the spotlight, American Rivers will be urging Congress to reject the President’s proposals to weaken bedrock environmental laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, and Clean Water Act. We will also encourage Congress to stand up for greater water infrastructure investment and insist on nature-based solutions to restore and modernize our nation’s infrastructure.