Editorial: Clean water isn't free, and the bill is coming due
By the Editorial Board, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Across the nation, the story is the same: Critical water infrastructure is failing at an alarming rate. Broken mains, aging water treatment plants and failing pumping stations all need to be replaced or repaired at a far more rapid rate than budgets currently allow.
“We’re reaching the end of the life cycle of some of the most critical assets we’ve got,” said Bill Stowe, CEO and general manager of Des Moines Waterworks, in an Associated Press article discussing the slow-boiling crisis.
“At stake is the continued availability of clean, cheap drinking water — a public health achievement that has fueled the nation’s growth for generations and that most Americans take for granted,” wrote AP reporter Ryan J. Foley in that story.
How bad is it? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency believes an investment of $384 billion by 2030 will be necessary to maintain the nation’s existing drinking water systems.
The industry-backed American Water Works Association thinks the cost will be even greater when necessary growth is accounted for. The association puts the tab at closer to $1 trillion over 25 years.
St. Louis is no stranger to this problem. Just in recent months, water main breaks caused electrical outages and shutdowns at parts of Barnes-Jewish Hospital, shut down Interstate 70 and precipitated several boil-water advisories for regional water customers.
A report by the local Metro Water Infrastructure Partnership released last year suggests our region needs to roughly double its pace of replacing aging pipelines to get to the industry standard of a 100-year replacement cycle, at a cost of an additional $34 million a year.
“That’s the key that Americans have to understand: If they want this system, they are going to have to be willing to finance it, to pay for it,” Greg DiLoreto, past president of theAmerican Society of Civil Engineers, told Mr. Foley.
Failing to do so “risks reversing the environmental, public health and economic gains of the last three decades,” Mr. DiLoreto’s group has long argued.
The problem is convincing water customers they need to pay more — a lot more — to keep the water flowing and prevent expensive but random water main breaks.
We’re not just talking about residential customers. Let’s face it: They don’t have a whole lot of say unless they get truly outraged and band together. Rather, it’s corporations like Anheuser-Busch InBev that have the muscle to shut down discussions about increasing water costs. And A-B officials have proven repeatedly in recent years that they’re willing to use their clout to head off the kinds of rate increases needed to fix this aging infrastructure.
When it comes to figuring out how to pay, localities are largely on their own. The AP article notes that federal programs for repairing water system infrastructure provide “just a drop in the bucket.”
In most places in this country not named California, clean, fresh drinking water is ubiquitous. Go to just about any tap, and it will flow. But the massive infrastructure that delivers that cool, clear water isn’t obvious, and neither is the shape it’s in — until a pipe bursts and sends water shooting 20 feet into the air.
The needs are real, and addressing them will require genuine commitment and political courage.
Just a couple of years ago, St. Louis witnessed how even a modest effort to look at ways to improve efficiency and streamline costs at the city water division could lead to major controversy. Ask Mayor Francis Slay how his negotiations with Veolia North America worked out.
There are many competing interests and conflicting issues that can muddy the water here and in other localities: city employees worried about their jobs; the potential pitfalls and benefits of privatizing vital public services; and pure, bare-knuckled politics.
But the bottom line is as clear as the water we need to continue flowing from our faucets: Major work must be done to upgrade, repair and replace this critical infrastructure, and that work won’t be cheap. Who pays for it, and how, is a question that must be answered sooner rather than later.
(This editorial was commissioned from freelance editorialists and edited by the Post-Dispatch editorial board.)
Missouri American Water to fund seven major watershed-improvement projects
JOPLIN, MO, Aug. 5, 2014 , Published by www.waterworld.com.
On Monday, Aug. 5, Missouri American Water announced that seven local watershed-related projects will receive funding from the company's annual Environmental Grant Program.These grants are part of American Water's national Environmental Grant Program, which began in 2005. The grants support innovative, community-based environmental projects that improve, restore and/or protect watersheds and community water supplies through partnerships.The 2014 grant recipients are:Missouri River Relief for the "Big Muddy Home Waters" cleanup. These community-based cleanups of trash from the Missouri River in Brunswick, Jefferson City and St. Joseph will include river education days for local high school students and will consist of volunteers from across the state.The Alliance of Southwest Missouri located in Joplin will use funds for the purchase and promotion of permanent prescription drug drop-off boxes. This project is a collaborative effort among many organizations, including Joplin Schools, Jasper County Sheriffs and the Joplin Police Department.The City of Ballwin will replace the traditional asphalt parking lot in Ferris Park with permeable paving and plantings to decrease runoff.Ranken Technical College was awarded funds to be used for their "Water World Explorers Camp," a week-long program that is part of the Career Exploration Academy led by Ranken faculty and industry experts targeting economically-disadvantaged middle and high school students.Table Rock Lake Community Service, Inc. will restore native trees and shrubs destroyed during a highway widening project in Kimberling City. "Replant Kimberling" will use volunteers from the Table Rock Lake Chamber of Commerce and Kimberling City Parks and Recreation.The St. Joseph Youth Alliance will use funds to create an awareness campaign for the Drug Free Community Coalition. The "Xtreme Teens" will stress safety through proper disposal of unused prescription medication.Earth Dance, an Organic Farm School located in Ferguson, will educate approximately 150 homeowners how to implement water management landscaping. Simple and low-cost approaches are introduced to mitigate stormwater runoff, which can directly impact the watershed.