Water Infrastructure Investment Makes Dollars and Sense

Water Infrastructure Investment Makes Dollars and Sense
AP Photo/Nati Harnik

Our country is facing a drinking water crisis that poses a clear and present danger to public health and the environment. A recent report from the American Society of Civil Engineers gave American water infrastructure a barely-passing grade of “D+,” an embarrassing reality we see on display on a seemingly daily basis. There are now over 200,000 recorded water main breaks annually. And while the failure of the drinking water system in Flint, MI has rightly entered the public consciousness, it should not be viewed as an aberration, but a wakeup call to policymakers at all levels of government to make significant new investments. 

The good news is that even in these uniquely polarized times, there is widespread bipartisan agreement in Congress on the need to dramatically increase federal investment in our nation’s water infrastructure. On March 5, 2019, the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act (HR 1497) was introduced by a bipartisan group of House members. The legislation authorizes $22.5 billion in new federal funding for the construction, repair and replacement of wastewater conveyance and treatment facilities. These veteran legislators know that clean water is not a Republican or Democratic priority, but a national priority.

In the United States today there are hundreds of communities that need to replace thousands of miles of rapidly failing pipes. The importance of increased investment in water infrastructure was succinctly expressed by House Speaker Pelosi in remarks on April 11thto her Caucus, “Our water systems, some of them are 100 years old, built of brick and wood – how would you like a glass of water from them?” 

The bipartisan Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act also enjoys broad support off Capitol Hill. The nation’s leading construction, labor, manufacturing, conservation and municipal organizations are all strong supporters of increased investment in our clean water infrastructure. This landmark legislation not only makes sense from an environmental and public health perspective it makes eminent economic sense. American industry and agriculture depend on reliable clean water and investments in water infrastructure will contribute directly to our nation’s competitiveness.

The timely investment in water infrastructure called for in HR 1497 has the potential to create over 500,000 high quality manufacturing, construction, and engineering jobs over the next five years. Labor and industry analysis of past federal water infrastructure investment have found that for every $1 billion invested, over 23,000 jobs are created. All of the PVC pipe utilized in the upgrading of our nation’s water infrastructure will be manufactured in North America and installed by American workers. 

And we can stretch these public dollars even further by encouraging open competition between pipe materials on bids to repair crumbling facilities and corroding metal pipes. Importantly, PVC pipes are corrosion-proof and durable, and allowing  it to compete openly with legacy ductile iron and other materials can generate enormous savings no matter what materials are ultimately selected.

The Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act builds on the proven success of the Clean Water Act State Revolving Fund by providing $20 billion over the next five years to this highly regarded infrastructure funding mechanism. Established in 1987, the Clean Water State Revolving Fund has financed the construction of hundreds of wastewater treatment facilities and stormwater management projects contributing directly to improved water quality in lakes, rivers and estuaries across the nation. 

Infrastructure investment and water infrastructure investment, in particular, are viewed by both Congress and the Trump Administration as one of the few areas where agreement can be reached during 116th Congress. For all these reasons, it’s vital that Congress move forward on the legislation in the coming weeks. Water infrastructure investment makes dollars and sense.

Ned Monroe is the President and CEO of the Vinyl Institute.

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