Water: A Rare Area of Bipartisan Agreement

Water: A Rare Area of Bipartisan Agreement
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

One area of bipartisan agreement is the need for a significant investment in our nation’s water infrastructure to modernize the millions of miles of water pipes running across the country. With Water Week in full swing, there is no better time to discuss the importance of federal investment in our nation’s water systems. 

Since before the Civil War, U.S. municipalities have transported drinking water to residents. In fact, some early water systems were made of hollowed out logs and wood boards, which were lashed together. Recently, traces of wooden water pipes were found in the ground in Philadelphia some 200 years after they were first installed. But as you would expect, wood pipes had a relatively short useful life span of about 20 years, so they were largely replaced by cast iron pipes that have dutifully served residents of major metropolitan areas for generations. 

As our towns and cities age, so too does our infrastructure. The reliable cast iron pipes that replaced wooden pipes are, in turn, being replaced by modern Ductile iron pipes. Through production innovations, Ductile pipes are a stronger, lighter material that’s equally, if not greater, suited to withstand the rigors of unpredictable weather, overhead traffic loads, and hazards of extreme conditions, including seismic activity. It’s proven the test of time. 

Updating our water infrastructure also enjoys overwhelming public support. A recent poll detailed that four out of five Americans agree that the federal government should act now to make this investment. And according to an economic study commissioned by the non-partisan Value of Water Campaign, modernizing our water infrastructure would could create 1.3 million jobs and add $220 billion in economic activity in the U.S.

Recognizing that many water pipelines across the country are nearing or have already exceeded 100 years of service life and as our nation’s population continues to expand, the American Water Works Association recently estimated that the U.S. may need to spend $1 trillion over the next twenty-five years on our water infrastructure to meet our nation’s growing demands.

We cannot afford to squander an important investment with inferior pipe materials. The failures and splitting of weaker plastic water pipes, for example, are showing their vulnerabilities across the country. Recently, following the fires in California there were even reports of plastic water pipes melting, resulting in toxic chemicals flowing through the water supply. This should come as a serious concern to consumers everywhere – no one should not have to worry about the quality of drinking water in their homes, businesses, and schools. Firefighters should not have to worry about water pressure or availability to battle back a blaze.

There will always be disagreements as to the best approach to making major investments in infrastructure. What we hope, though, is that our elected officials will set aside partisan differences to solve this serious need. Leaders in Congress and the White House should work together to form a legislative package that will lead the way in providing the resources necessary to provide every American with access to safe, clean, and reliable drinking water.  For years policymakers have been calling for this change, the time for action is now.

All too often, drinking water systems are ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ However, buried infrastructure delivers 42 billion gallons of water a day to communities across our country. We need strong investment to ensure that projects are funded so that the right materials – not necessarily the cheapest ones – are used and Americans from coast to coast have the water resources they need to survive and thrive.

For years policymakers have been calling for this change. The time for action is now.

Patrick Hogan is President of the Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association.

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