from the executive director
4 SOURCE fall 2013
Operations & Maintenance
Manufacturers Associates Council
Workforce Development Council
Standing Committee Chairs
Water For People
Infrastructure: Large/Small, Old/New
in the national dialogue
on occasion, usually on
the occasion of a colossal
and highly visible failure
such as a bridge collapse.
The infrastructure report
card put out by ASCE is
an attention-grabber for a week or two and then
it’s overtaken by other headlines.
Unfortunately, water infrastructure is often
invisible compared to highways, bridges or other
transportation infrastructure, which can cause daily
inconvenience, personal costs or imminent threats
to personal safety. On the positive side, for most
Americans a water outage is a very uncommon
occurrence and a notice of unsafe water rarer
still. The down side of this reliability, however, is
that many people are oblivious to the mounting
problem of buried infrastructure that is growing
old. Well-managed utilities monitor their pipes,
valves, reservoirs and other infrastructure. They
keep to a schedule of preventive maintenance and
budget for replacement of these assets as necessary.
But with downward pressure on water rates,
it is hard to keep up and the scale of needed infrastructure
replacement grows steadily larger.
How massive is the needed investment in
water infrastructure? A thorough, bottom-up
investigation of needed pipe replacement
completed last year for AWWA puts the grand
total at a trillion dollars over the next 25 years.
The Environmental Protection Agency released
its periodically required report to Congress this
past June and put the 20-year water infrastructure
needs at $384 billion. However, this figure is an
extrapolation from looking at the budgets of just
the 300 largest water utilities. Either way, the need
is large and growing, as every year thousands of
miles of aging pipes remain in the ground.
The magnitude of the infrastructure investment
crisis is not the only issue. Equally alarming is the
widening gap in the ability of water systems to
make the necessary investments. Larger water
agencies in California and Nevada generally
have the capacity to replace and expand their
water supply, conveyance, treatment and distribution
infrastructure. Southern Nevada Water
Authority’s Lake Mead Intake No. 3 and the San
Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s extensive
Water System Improvement Program (WSIP)
demonstrate that large, well-funded utilities have
typically been able to finance future infrastructure
needs. At the same time there are small, mostly
rural community water systems that lack the
technical, managerial and financial capacity even
to manage a fully grant-funded capital project.
In California the Drinking Water State Revolving
Fund (SRF) has been roundly criticized due to its
inability to get funding to these systems to bring
them into compliance with mandatory regulations,
even though in some cases the system was
not even a legal entity to sign contracts.
The backlog of infrastructure investment is so
large that without some help, water ratepayers
alone will be hard pressed to catch up. Every
avenue and approach needs to be pursued and
applied to the situation for which each is best
suited. The SRF programs are intended for systems
with dire needs and limited ability. In view of the
scope of the country’s infrastructure repair and
replacement, however, AWWA is advocating the
Water Infrastructure Financing Innovations Act
(WIFIA). With WIFIA, large-scale (currently over
$20 million) projects would have the option to
borrow funds at a fractional percentage higher
than Treasury rates, saving potentially millions of
dollars in interest payments over the life of the
loan. A new title in the Water Resources Development
Act passed by the U.S. Senate this year would
establish a version of WIFIA as a pilot program.
By the time you read this, we will probably know
whether the House of Representatives will have
passed its own version of WIFIA in this Congress.
As you will read elsewhere in this issue of
Source, water infrastructure issues have huge
implications for our safety, health, and quality of
life. At all levels, AWWA will continue to press for
the investments needed to maintain, replace and
in some cases expand the existing infrastructure.
But AWWA is only as strong as its truly active
members, and we need you to be an active voice
for water infrastructure. Let’s bring it out in the
open and remind customers, legislators, neighbors—
anyone who will listen—what is at stake
and what must be done about it.
Timothy Worley, Ph.D.
Executive Director, CA-NV Section AWWA