The U.S. water infrastructure breaks once each minute and about 540,000 times each year. The entire network is comprised of about 1.8 million miles of water distribution lines. Because of the age of the infrastructure, however, it leaks about six billion gallons of fresh water per day, according to the American Water Works Association (AWWA).


Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released its 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. It assigned a “D” grade to the nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure.

There is no question America’s water infrastructure is in need of replenishment. The cost estimates vary, but even the most modest projections are staggering. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) puts the minimum repair investment at $335 billion for fresh water and $298 billion for wastewater. AWWA’s 2012 report, Buried No Longer: Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge, puts the figure at more than $1 trillion over the next 25 years just for the drinking water infrastructure, and another $1 trillion for wastewater.

EPA’s estimate covers only the most urgent needs, while the AWWA includes work that needs to be done to prevent further decay of the system. Left to the states, the patchwork of improvements — provided they could even get budget approvals — would be underfunded and insufficient.

According to the AWWA, it’s not only about failing infrastructure, but the way we use water. “It’s a combination of new regulations, population shifts to the West and South, as well as the simple aging of our infrastructure,” Tommy Holmes, legislative director of the AWWA told IMT. Holmes noted that most Americans are unaware of the scope of the problem, since water infrastructure is buried and usually out of sight — and out of mind.

While sequestration and social reform seem to be chewing up congressional attention, there is a significant amount of proposed legislation filtering through Capitol Hill regarding waterworks. The Senate’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2013 is one piece. The bill was introduced earlier this year in an effort to source funding for repairs and replacements by making available direct loans and loan guarantees to reduce borrowing costs and boost investment.

But the bill is currently stalled. Another bill, S. 601: Water Resources Development Act of 2013, establishes a pilot program (among other things) to assess the ability of financing tools to replace infrastructure. This legislation has cleared the Senate, and the House is currently drafting similar legislation that is expected to be combined with S. 601.

While the ASCE report notes that communities ought to be self-sustaining through local water fees, the federal government still needs to play a role in financing the projects given the costs involved. The group recommends creating a Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority that would make low-interest federal loans available for large water infrastructure projects.

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A proliferation of funding and financing options may present a brilliant opportunity for water infrastructure suppliers, and these companies are showing enthusiasm for the legislation. It’s not simply about money and large contracts that would result from a green light for water infrastructure improvement. It’s also about being able to replace the technologies of the last century (and in some cases, the century before that) with newer systems that can conserve water, monitor its quality, reduce the energy needed to move and treat it, and reduce maintenance work.

“It’s important to remember that technology exists today that can, if more widely adopted, help water infrastructure entities operate more efficiently, and help cities be more resilient in the face of water challenges,” Tom Glover, vice president of global public affairs for water technology company Xylem, told IMT. Glover said the cost of energy is one of the highest — if not the highest — operating cost of any water or wastewater treatment plant, and that technology exists today to cut energy use in half while boosting efficiency.

Many municipalities in the U.S. are operating under long-term sustainability goals, both for conservation efforts and for storm disaster recovery. Suppliers that offer technologies to help reduce the water and energy usage, as well as boost the quality of drinking water and the efficiency of wastewater processing, will likely attract more attention when it comes time to award favorable loans and government contracts.

Smart metering, a process most associated with energy use, is applicable to water use, as well. Smart meters, located throughout an urban water system, help companies pinpoint small leaks and pressure problems before they become larger problems, reducing maintenance costs. They can also measure water usage daily for more precise billing and allocation of water resources, and to allow consumers to regulate their usage.

The infrastructure replacement is inevitable. Whether it happens before or after catastrophic failures remains to be seen.

This article was originally published on ThomasNet News Industry Market Trends  and is reprinted in its entirety with permission from Thomas Industrial Network.  For more stories like this please visit Industry Market Trends.

 



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