Additional federal infrastructure investment is critical for safe drinking water

by Sara Schwartz

When news of the Flint, Mich., water crisis made headlines, nearly 21 million people across the country relied on water systems that violated health standards. Low-income communities, minority populations and rural towns disproportionately deal with barriers to safe water. (See related story from Pittsburgh, Penn., below.)

Drinking water challenges are complex: failing infrastructure, polluted water sources and low-capacity utility management are all part of the issue. Declining investment in water infrastructure throughout the last several decades has exacerbated the problem.

Access to safe water is essential for our survival and our economy. Without serious investment in water infrastructure, we will continue to put communities at risk. As a country, we must support existing funding sources for water infrastructure, develop new and innovative funding mechanisms and more effectively prioritize the water needs of underserved communities.

Investment in water infrastructure has decreased. An analysis from the Value of Water Campaign shows that combined federal investment in drinking water and wastewater infrastructure declined from 63 percent of total capital spending to 9 percent since 1977. State and local governments have also decreased their capital spending on water infrastructure in recent years. The EPA estimates that the United States needs to invest $472.6 billion in the next 20 years, the majority of which can be attributed to rehabilitating, upgrading and replacing existing infrastructure.

Essential for health, economy

Safe water is essential to our health – and if we’re not healthy, we can’t work. Businesses and industries rely on water to support worker productivity and as a raw resource for goods and services. According to the Economic Policy Institute, $188.4 billion spent on water infrastructure investment in five years can yield $265 billion in economic activity and create 1.9 million jobs.

Federal investment in water infrastructure must continue to grow. The reality is that Flint is not an isolated incident. Communities across the country struggle to provide safe water. People are working hard to address these issues, but more effort is needed. Everyone can play a role by making our failing water systems and the communities that rely on them a priority. Safe water must no longer be a luxury.

About the author: Sara Schwartz holds a master’s degree in environmental management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. This article is excerpted from a blog post; for the full version, visit blog.ucsusa.org.

Pittsburgh to spend millions to replace pipes

Pittsburgh, Penn.’s water authority will spend $50 million to replace lead service lines, provide filters to low-income residents as well as other measures to address the city’s lead crisis under a settlement approved in February by state utility regulators.

This news came shortly after the state’s Attorney General’s office filed criminal charges against the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority for allegedly mishandling a lead-pipe replacement program in 2016-17, which placed more than 150 households at elevated risk of lead poisoning.

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