Laurel, MD – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, Chairman of the Senate Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, visited with the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission Tuesday for a briefing by WSSC CEO and General Manager Jerry N. Johnson at the Patuxent Water Filtration Plant and to discuss federal options for improving our nation’s aging water infrastructure. The region has seen a growing number of water main breaks. As recently as July, a water main serving 100,000 people in Prince George’s County began to fail. Mandatory water restrictions were instituted, limiting access to water for homes and businesses during an intense heat wave that saw the heat index repeatedly reach the triple digits.
“Americans deserve the peace of mind that comes from knowing that the water coming out of their faucet is clean and safe. Keeping this a reality is becoming increasingly more difficulty as the water infrastructure we rely on outlives its 50-year expected lifespan. Several cities have water systems over 100 years old, so it is no surprise that industry experts say that since January 2000, water main breaks have cost this nation over $42 billion dollars in repair costs,” said Senator Cardin. “Our aging water infrastructure system represents a clear and present danger to public health, as well as our economic security and therefore our national security. The federal government cannot meet this need alone, but we must take a proactive approach, making strategic investments in innovative projects designed to meet the current and future needs of our water systems.”
Wastewater treatment plants prevent billions of tons of pollutants each year from reaching America’s rivers, lakes, and coastlines. In so doing, they help prevent water-borne disease and make our waters safe for fishing and swimming. Similarly, some 54,000 community drinking water systems provide drinking water to more than 250 million Americans, keeping water supplies free of contaminants that cause disease. The ongoing degradation of these systems puts human health directly at risk.
“We very much appreciate Senator Cardin’s hard work to keep renewal of our aging underground pipes and other assets in the national conversation about rebuilding America’s infrastructure. As we say, we are out of sight and out of mind,” said Johnson. “We face many of the same issues other utilities around the country face; aging water and sewer systems, regulatory mandates to ensure water quality and protect the environment; and ever-changing technology that improves every aspect of what we do. But all of this costs more and that affects our customers.”
It’s estimated that by 2020, the forecasted deficit for sustaining water delivery and wastewater treatment infrastructure, will trigger a $206 billion increase in costs for businesses. In a worst case scenario, a lack of water infrastructure investment will cause the United States to lose nearly 700,000 jobs by 2020. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that more than $630 billion will be needed over the next 20 years to meet the nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure needs.
The immediate and long-term dividends of investing in water infrastructure are significant. Research shows that water infrastructure investment has one of the highest job creation potentials when compared across other broad categories of public infrastructure investment. The U.S. Conference of Mayors notes that each public dollar invested in water infrastructure increases private long-term GDP output by more than $6. The National Association of Utility Contractors estimates that one billion dollars of water infrastructure investment can create over 26,000 jobs. The Department of Commerce has found that that same dollar yields close to $3 worth of economic output in other industries. Every job created in local water and sewer industries creates close to four jobs elsewhere in the national economy.
Senator Cardin talked in detail about two federal bills that would help alleviate many of the problems facing Maryland and the nation. the first, the Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Act, which will be formally introduced in September, will help local communities with matching grants to help meet the challenges of upgrading water infrastructure systems to meet the hydrological changes we are seeing today. Communities across the country will be able to compete for federal matching funds to help finance water infrastructure projects. This type of grant funding meets a growing need in our communities, but it is meant to complement, not replace, the federal funding structure that is the longstanding foundation for water infrastructure support in this country: the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRFs), which are long overdue for reauthorization. These programs provide critical funding to communities for water infrastructure maintenance and improvement, and they are operating in an atmosphere of uncertainty and decreasing resources due to the longstanding failure to reauthorize them.