Wastewater infrastructure is “taken for granted” in the US and is literally a “leaking time bomb,” according to Ben Grumbles, President of the U.S. Water Alliance, a not-for-profit educational organization based in Washington, DC and committed to uniting people and policies for water sustainability throughout the country. Grumbles call for attention to the issue comes as the Brookings Institute releases a report on the impact of new jobs from water infrastructure jobs.
Say goodbye to “cheap water”
“The era of cheap water is over,” Grumbles noted in an interview, saying it’s time for people to recognize the true value of proper water treatment facilities and underground piping which have been neglected for years. “Water infrastructure is out of sight out of mind” and they are “aging and failing. It is threatening national competitiveness. A world class economy needs world class infrastructure.”
Grumbles says the problem is that “political forces often reward delayed maintenance strategies.” In other words, it’s easier for political leaders to kick the can than face the music and raise taxes.
Repairing the failing infrastructure will require political backbone, as 95% of funding for water and sewer comes from local user fees and taxes. “It’s easy for local communities to feel they are already paying too much. It is a local shared responsibility. It’s manageable if the consumer values the water management system,” he said.
The bottom line? The average rate increase tax payers may see is around 8% every year. “The challenge is to get the prices aligned with the value of services being provided.”
Infrastructure jobs increasing according to Brookings report
The Brookings report notes the importance of water infrastructure jobs. In 2012, 14.2 million workers were employed in infrastructure jobs across the country, accounting for 11 percent of national employment, the report says. This includes truck drivers, electricians, and civil engineers are among the occupations employing the most workers overall, the broad majority of whom (77 percent) focus on operating infrastructure rather than its construction (15 percent), design (6 percent), or governance (2 percent). Infrastructure occupations are projected to increase 9.1 percent during the next decade, including the need to replace more than 2.7 million workers. From 2012 to 2022, many infrastructure jobs are projected to grow by thousands of additional workers, led by fast-growing occupations such as wind turbine service technicians and solar photovoltaic installers. Critically, though, there will be a need to replace almost one quarter of this infrastructure workforce due to retirements and other employment shifts.
“Water is a fundamental human right,” Grumbles said. “There is always a need for a social safety net in water. Those who cannot afford to pay the true value of the service receive some sort of subsidy.
“This issue cannot be ignored, it needs to become a priority,” he said.