[Mary Scott Nabers]: Water is quickly becoming a precious resource. Many regions of the country have been asked to predict how long they can continue to provide drinking water to residents if the current drought situation continues. At the same time, public officials are struggling with immediate needs to repair and/or replace water infrastructure systems. Americaâ€™s water resource problems, and the costs associated with them, are alarming to say the least.
A recent report released by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the current state of Americaâ€™s wastewater and drinking water systems a grade of D based on long-neglected infrastructure needs. The nationâ€™s drinking-water and wastewater systems are nearing the end of their useful lives.
Estimates for costs related to renewal vary, but the projections are extremely high. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates the most minimum repair cost is $335 billion for fresh water and $298 billion for wastewater. The American Water Workerâ€™s Association says that the cost will be closer to $1 trillion for each over the next 25 years.
The staggering scope of the repair is not just the result of aging; it is increased because of new regulations, population shifts to areas of the nation where water is a more costly commodity and population growth throughout the country.
As cities and municipalities wrestle with issues related to water, Congress may provide some financial assistance. One bill offering funding relief, the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2013, is currently stalled in Congress, but most believe the bill will pass. If so, it will provide funding for critical water initiatives in the form of loans and grants.
Another bill, Senate bill 601: Water Resources Development Act of 2013, creates a pilot program whereby public officials can get assistance in assessing various financing tools for infrastructure repairs and upgrades. This bill has made it through the Senate, and the House is currently drafting components to be combined with the original legislation.
Other funding options include the EB5 Programs, Social Impact Bonds and tax-free bonds. There is also an abundance of funding available from private-sector partners and both government and union pension programs if elected officials decide to engage in public-private partnerships.
The City of Chula Vista, California, will take part in the San Diego County Water Authorityâ€™s pipeline relining program. This program has existed since the early 1990s and is designed to rehabilitate and extend the life of about 82 miles of aging water delivery pipelines. About 34 miles of pipe have been relined to date. The relining of aging pipes is said to have very little environmental impact and it protects water delivery systems while extending the life span of the pipes.
Miami-Dade County, Florida, issued a consent decree calling for the repair and rehabilitation of sewer facilities county-wide. The projected cost is approximately $1.6 billion and that total will include capital improvements for project management, design, permitting, procurement and construction. This decree was made after a number of aging pipelines failed and the county had to deal with sewer overflows.
The nationâ€™s water issues will create thousands of contracting opportunities for private-sector firms and the timeline will be short. Public officials will move quickly to launch large water projects once they see a clear path to funding. Kicking this problem down the road is no longer an option.