Clean Infrastructure

Water Infrastructure

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Significant investments and upgrades in appropriate water infrastructure will be necessary for communities to adapt to the effects of climate change, maintain access to safe drinking water, and adequately treat storm and wastewater. And doing so will also present a significant opportunity to create quality jobs.

The Challenge

Many U.S. cities rely on water pipes that are, on average, a century old. Each year there are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks every year in America. These leaking pipes lose an estimated 7 billion gallons of clean drinking water a day—approximately 12 percent of treated water—which wastes energy, water, and disrupts businesses and communities.

These pipes also present a danger to millions of Americans, especially children. There are an estimated 7.3 million water lines made of lead that run from water mains to single and multi-family residences and other buildings, such as schools, hospitals and day-care centers. Unfortunately, the information about where these pipes are, and their potential for leaching lead is largely unknown. In cities around the country—most notably in Flint, Michigan—people are faced with potential exposure to lead.

When lead enters the body of a young child, before or after birth, it affects the developing brain at vanishingly low levels. The resulting personal costs last a lifetime; when exposures occur across an entire community, the long-term social and economic costs are staggering

Public health researchers estimate that lead exposure among children from paint alone results in long-term costs for society in health care services between $11 and $53 billion; lost lifetime earnings of between $165 and $233 billion; lost tax revenue of up to $35 billion. Other costs of lead poisoning include special education costs between $30 and $146 million; and $1.7 billion in direct due to crime. In addition to these personal and social costs, elevated blood lead is linked to anemia, premature birth, various cardiovascular diseases, and impairment of kidney function.

Significant investments and upgrades in appropriate water infrastructure will be necessary for communities to adapt to the effects of climate change, maintain access to safe drinking water, and adequately treat storm and wastewater. And doing so will also present a significant opportunity to create quality jobs.

The Opportunity

Repairing the nation’s water infrastructure will help to ensure that Americans are provided with clean, safe water that is free of lead and other forms of contamination, will prevent the loss of billions of gallons of drinkable water, and will create quality, family-sustaining jobs across the country. 

The American Society of Civic Engineers grades the U.S. drinking water system “D+”. Making the investments required to improve that grade to a “B” could create or sustain an estimated 144,000 jobs around the country. Replacement and upgrade of pipelines, treatment plants, storage tanks, and the installation of green infrastructure projects will not only create jobs, but will build a more efficient system that is resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Supply, treating and using water requires a large amount of energy, and making the system more efficient will reduce carbon emissions. Reducing the amount of water leaked annually in the United States by just 5 percent would save enough energy to power 31,000 homes for a year and reduce 225,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

“Fixing our water infrastructure will ensure all Americans have access to clean, safe drinking water, will protect public health, and will create good jobs rebuilding the systems meeting our nation’s water needs.”

– BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director Kim Glas

Key Facts

7 Million Number of water lines made of lead that run from water mains to single and multi-family residences and other buildings, such as schools, hospitals and day-care centers. (Source)

6 Billion Gallons Number of gallons of clean drinking water lost every day in the United States because of leaking pipes in the system. (Source)

144,000 jobs Number of jobs that could be created by making the required investments to improve our nation’s water infrastructure from a “D+” to a “B”. (Source)

31,000 Number of homes that could be powered per year with the energy saved by reducing the amount of water leaked annually by just 5 percent. (Source)

90,000 & 500,000 Number of schools and childcare facilities, respectively, in the United States that aren’t required to test their drinking water for lead. (Source)


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