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Water/Waste Processing e-News / Infrastructure

US water infrastructure given grade 'D'

March 26, 2013
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The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has given the water infrastructure in the United States a disappointingly low D grade in its new 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure. Despite the barely passing grade, the U.S. drinking water and sewage infrastructure improved its performance in comparison to the previous report in 2009, when the water infrastructure was given a nearly failing D-.

According to the report card, U.S. pipes and treatment plants are coming close to the end of their expected lifespan. In order to repair and replace systems to prevent the nearly 240,000 water main breaks a year, almost $1 trillion in investments would be necessary, figures from the American Water Works Association have revealed. Moreover, nearly 14,000 of the 84,000 dams that are responsible for water and power supply were assessed to be "high hazard". At present, the average age of U.S. water reservoirs is 52 years and ASCE estimated that $298 billion would have to be spent over the next two decades to fix and expand wastewater and stormwater systems.

Jeff Sterba, chief executive officer of the biggest publicly traded water company in the United States, American Water Works Co., commented that the grades from ASCE reflected the fact that the nation's drinking water and wastewater infrastructure were in poor condition. Although it was a passing grade, it should not be taken as a satisfactory performance, he added.

RELATED: US water and sewage systems in dire need of infrastructure improvement

ASCE estimated that about 20 percent of the whole amount of investments needed should go to construct new and upgrade existing wastewater treatment facilities. The rest of the required sum would be needed to expand pipes and wastewater networks to reduce sewer overflows and raw effluents run off into waterways.

Currently, state and local governments are responsible for about 98 percent of the capital investments in water infrastructure, so ASCE proposed to fund the renovation of water infrastructure by boosting government-backed revolving loans with $7.5 billion in federal funds and by using more tax-free private activity bonds to support private water investment projects. In addition, it recommended that a federal water infrastructure trust fund be set up to help finance works.

Overall, ASCE gave the entire infrastructure in the United Stated a D+, which marked a slight improvement from four years ago, when the report assessed its condition as a D grade, the association announced on its website. This is the first time that the overall grade and separate grades for specific sectors have improved since the report cards were first issued in 1998, ASCE noted.

Individual assessments are made of infrastructure in a number of sectors, including bridges, dams, drinking water, energy, hazardous waste, inland waterways, ports, solid waste, transit and wastewater among others. When deciding on the final grades, ASCE looks into a series of factors, such as capacity to meet future demand, condition, funding, future needs, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience and innovation.

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