Infrastructure frequently makes headlines; we read stories about crumbling roads and bridges, high hazard dams, airport capacity problems, and perhaps most alarming, stories about water. Water is essential for every facet of life on the planet. It sustains us all so issues of sustainability are of great consequence. Climate change’s impact on consistent precipitation paired with increased population and demand make sustainability far more difficult to achieve. As water availability has become less certain, the importance of dealing with other clear-cut issues of waste that threaten water is glaring.
Historically underfunded, the country’s infrastructure systems are severely outdated and overextended leading to wasteful leaks and watermain breaks, impacting water supplies. According to the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE), there are approximately 2.2 million miles of pipe that comprise the United States’ drinking water infrastructure and they estimate that “approximately 240,000 water main breaks occur each year, creating a loss of more than 2 trillion gallons of treated drinking water annually.”
Another issue contributing to waste is contamination. Older systems face challenges with sewer overflows. The EPA estimates between 23,000 and 75,000 sanitary sewer overflow events occur each year which can lead to contaminated water according to the agency’s website. Water can also be contaminated by heavy metals from industrial sources, pharmaceuticals, improperly disposed of chemicals, animal and human waste, nitrates from fertilizer, pesticides and lead pipes. According to an article by Mary Scott Nabers, “An estimated 105 million people receive water from public water systems that use groundwater, and one federal agency proclaims that an estimated 22 percent of public wells for those systems have one or more contaminants at unsafe levels for human health.” Although testing is mandated, the results often go unnoticed by the public, leaving most people unaware of the dangers associated with their water. This year, the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the U.S. a C- in the drinking-water category.
Infrastructure is currently in the news for another reason: funding. Biden’s proposed infrastructure legislation is massive and efforts toward a bipartisan deal are breaking down. The outcome is uncertain, but without funding to protect this most precious resource it will continue to be wasted, and it’s a loss that we can’t afford.
 “Drinking Water.” ASCE’s 2021 Infrastructure Report Card |, 25 Mar. 2021, infrastructurereportcard.org/cat-item/drinking-water/.
Photo Credit: Robert Santafede, Flickr