Friday, October 24, 2014

A Matter of Trust

by Jennifer Wemhoff, Program Manager
In the fall issue of The Aquifer, Groundwater Foundation President Emeritus Susan Seacrest reflected on the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The Act, which was signed into law in 1974, ensures the drinking water delivered to consumers by public water systems meets high standards to protect human health.
In her article, Susan talks about how drinking an ordinary glass of water represents a moment of great trust between citizens and their government; the trust that the water is safe.
While this trust is reinforced by legislation such as the SDWA, there is another layer of trust that may literally be eroding. Report after report suggest that the nation's water infrastructure is nearing the end of its life. From pipes to treatment technology, the world is changing and infrastructure needs to change along with it. A recent article from Circle of Blue discusses the issue:
“Water reserves are diminishing in the West. Rainstorms are growing more intense as the planet warms. Waterways that once were nearly scrubbed of pollutants are becoming overloaded with nutrients. These and other indicators – Depression-era distribution pipes and a deluge of new pharmaceutical and chemical contaminants – are evidence that the water-cleaning and water-moving systems that were designed and installed to contend with different conditions generations ago are nearing the end of their design lives. American infrastructure needs to be updated, expanded, redesigned, and, in many cases, reinvented for 21st-century challenges."

Cost, of course, is the main factor in lagging infrastructure improvements. AWWA reports that it could cost near $1 trillion. And unlike the 1970s, when the SDWA was enacted and the federal government helped fund the lion's share of capital investment in water and wastewater infrastructure, the burden now lies with state and local agencies.
While the trust we place in our government to ensure the water we drink is safe is justified, it's important that we at citizens support efforts to improve the nation's water infrastructure, which enables the safe water to be delivered to our taps.
What do you think needs to be done to address the issue of aging infrastructure? Whose responsibility is it to foot the bill for the improvements?

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