Happy New Year! You may have seen yesterday’s Washington Post article, “Billions needed to upgrade America’s leaky water infrastructure” on the front page of the paper. Reporter Ashley Halsey used a recent, complicated sewer repair in Adams Morgan to illustrate the challenges DC Water and other utilities face in maintaining aging systems.
This media attention is welcome and overdue. As one of my colleagues recently told a United States Senate committee, water and sewer infrastructure are underfunded by more than $600 billion nationwide. This is how much it would cost to keep pipes from breaking and to ensure quality service in the years to come.
The online version of the Post story drew hundreds of comments, many posing the legitimate policy question of how large a role the federal government should play in infrastructure funding. A number of commenters suggested the cities, or the end users, should pay the bill for needed upgrades.
I disagree. The federal government installed water and sewer systems in many cities, not just the District, and for years invested large sums in their upkeep. The infrastructure we maintain and operate is every bit as important as the roads, rails and bridges that are included in federal appropriations every year and were a major part of the recent stimulus package.
Roads, rails and bridges matter because they provide jobs and support society. Yet we can have no jobs – or society – without reliable, reasonably priced clean water. In an era of deficit spending and continued military involvement overseas, it’s easy to argue that we can’t afford to spend more on pipes. But I would argue that we can’t afford not to do so.
With increased federal spending on water infrastructure, we have the chance to ensure clean water for the next generations and put people to work today. Now is the time.