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North America is at a “turning point” in its need to replace aging water infrastructure, a panel of experts told a gathering on the final day of the “Paying for Sustainable Water Infrastructure” conference in Atlanta.
Sponsored by the U.S. EPA and the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority, and with the American Water Works Association (AWWA) among its co-sponsors, the conference brought together several hundred water managers, public officials and regulators to discuss how to address the growing concern of aging water pipes. AWWA estimates the collective bill to replace and repair drinking water pipes that may top $300 billion in the next three decades.
“Together, we are changing the way American views, values and manages water infrastructure—the lifeblood for communities and ecosystems,” said Benjamin H. Grumbles, assistant administrator for water for the U.S. EPA. “I commend AWWA and other leaders for their efforts to advance sustainability and water efficiency, locally and globally.”
The panel, moderated by Julius Ciaccia, director of utilities for the City of Cleveland, Ohio, and chair of the AWWA Water Utility Council, included Mayor Kevin Crawford, City of Manitowoc, Wis.; Kurt Vause, engineering division director of the Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility, and Elisa Speranza, vice president of CH2M Hill.
Speranza, co-author of the AWWA report entitled Water Infrastructure at a Turning Point: The Road to Sustainable Asset Management (May 2006), said many communities are at a crossroads at which they must choose to invest in infrastructure replacement or face a crisis in the years ahead.
Mayor Crawford pointed out that some public officials are hesitant to support rate increases and other measures to address a problem that is literally buried underground. “We are pretty pragmatic, and the fact of the matter is we are motivated by crisis,” Mayor Crawford said. “The infrastructure is not visible until the car falls in the hole or there's a
main break in the winter.”
Vause demonstrated how his utility in Anchorage instituted an effective asset management program after showing consumers that the average expenditure his utility was making equated to a 357-year replacement schedule. Anchorage concluded that the annual average investment had to increase from $3.6 million to close to $15 million.
“If you get out in front of the issue and work with your consumers, you need to have a continuing running dialogue with your consumers,” Vause said.
Anchorage is among some 200 utilities using AWWA's Only Tap Water Delivers campaign to communicate the value of tap water service and the need to reinvest in water infrastructure. The utility is placing Only Tap Water Delivers ads in the local metropolitan newspaper and on the sides of buses.