The majority of water infrastructure in the United States was installed over the course of three major timeframes: the early 1900s, the 1930s, and from 1950 into the 1970s. Yet, because of the lifespan of materials used during each of these timeframes, our nation’s water infrastructure—from pipes to plants—are old and in dire need of repair and/or replacement.

Much of the infrastructure was designed and built when urban areas were much smaller and more compact. In many locations, local sources cannot meet current requirements, let alone be expected to meet a greatly increasing need alone. And, oftentimes waters are shared across local and state boundaries, further complicating the entire process.

There are currently nearly 55,000 drinking water systems and 16,000 wastewater treatment systems across the United States, many of which are in poor physical condition.

Problems now include leaking and/or broken pipes, and associated storm water runoff that can overwhelm treatment capacity. The EPA estimates that 23,000-75,000 sewage overflows occur each year, resulting in the release of up to 10 billion gallons of untreated wastewater into U.S. surface waters; this does not take into consideration additional storm water overflows.

The American Society of Civil Engineers’ latest report card on the state of the nation’s infrastructure identified a report from House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee staff which stated that, "Without increased investment in wastewater infrastructure, in less than a generation, the U.S. could lose much of the gains it made thus far in improving water quality, and wind up with dirtier water than existed prior to the enactment of the 1972 Clean Water Act."

The EPA, the Government Accountability Office, and the Water Infrastructure Network estimate that an additional $300 to $500 billion is needed over the next 20 years in order to assist in the upgrade of critical infrastructure for both water and sanitation.

In 2007, the U.S House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Water Quality Financing Act, providing $1.7 billion for municipalities to fix their aging clean water infrastructure and reduce sewer overflows; however, the Senate has yet to act. The combination of an aging infrastructure, new population distribution, and growing demands creates complex challenges that must be overcome.

In addition, the potential threats of intentional attacks on our nation’s infrastructure, including water have increased awareness. In response, Congress passed the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002. Title IV of the Act focuses on Drinking Water Security and Safety, looking to assess system vulnerability by a terrorist or other intentional attack, including the prevention, detection, and response to potentially introduced contaminants, which could significantly disrupt the ability of the system to provide a safe and reliable supply of water.



The Environmental Literacy Council