BlueGreen Alliance Report Highlights Challenges and Opportunities in Repairing America’s Water Systems

Congress continues to debate moving comprehensive infrastructure repair investments as a way to spur economic growth and the creation of good-paying jobs during the COVID-19 crisis.

July 1, 2020

The nation’s wastewater and drinking water infrastructure received grades of “D+” and “D” from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), respectively. A new report released today by the BlueGreen Alliance—entitled Water Works: The Job Creation Potential of Repairing America’s Water Infrastructure—shows how investments in the nation’s water systems to improve them to a “B” grade would create 654,000 job-years—a job that employs a person full-time for one year—across the U.S. economy.

“Repairing our clean and wastewater infrastructure will grow and sustain the good-paying jobs we need right now and in the long-term, and not just in system maintenance but also in the new construction sector and in manufacturing,” said James Slevin, president of the Utility Workers Union of America. “When infrastructure spending is coupled with policy that incentivizes domestic content—like Buy America standards—there is a long history of maximizing the return on investment to taxpayers and the American economy.”

The health impacts of aging infrastructure are pervasive. More than 27 million Americans get their water from systems that violate health standards, and low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately impacted by contaminated water.

“Every American deserves access to clean, safe water and right now we’re failing in that most basic measure,” said BlueGreen Alliance Legislative Director Jessica Eckdish “In towns and cities around the country, people—especially people of color—are being exposed to lead and other harmful chemicals in their water. Flint, Michigan brought this issue to national prominence, but since then there’s been a lack of action at the federal level to do what it takes to keep people safe. That needs to change and it needs to change now.”

The group said another issue is that climate change is further straining water systems already in disrepair. A study by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies estimated that states will need an additional $448 to $944 billion dollars by 2050 to reengineer water systems to cope with sea level rise, droughts, and floods.

“Our most vulnerable communities are suffering the most from our outdated water infrastructure, which leads to contamination and flooding,” said Becky Hammer, deputy director for federal water policy at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “The climate crisis exacerbates these risks. The good news is that repairing and upgrading our pipes and treatment plants will help provide safe, clean water for all of us—and create thousands of good jobs.”

Water pipes leak approximately 14% of all treated water and there are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks in America each year. The U.S. House of Representatives is currently debating a bill that would infuse over 65 billion dollars into drinking and wastewater systems.

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