World Water Day, observed this year on March 22, is dedicated to acknowledging issues surrounding access to clean water around the world and here at home. This year’s theme is valuing water.
In these unprecedented times, water is an indispensable resource in fighting COVID-19 and making life better for people who are spending more time at home.
Throughout this emergency, the Regional Water Authority (RWA) and other water utilities have kept safe, clean water flowing to homes, hospitals and businesses. The pandemic has demonstrated the critical role that drinking water systems play in our communities, protecting public health, providing fire protection, safeguarding the environment and supporting our economy.
Reliable, high-quality water service is essential to every aspect of our lives, but it is not guaranteed. Drought, flooding, infrastructure failure, poor water quality and climate change are straining our nation’s water systems.
Consider the recent catastrophe in Texas when a winter storm left millions of customers without potable water for days. Low temperatures and a prolonged loss of electricity resulted in cracked pipes, frozen wells and inactive water treatment plants, which consequently caused water woes for residents. Many of the conditions that created this crisis are unique to Texas, and would not happen in Connecticut. However, this emergency serves as a reminder that water cannot be taken for granted, and must be supported by sound infrastructure that is continually improved or replaced, and reinforced by emergency preparedness measures.
Loss of water service would be a public health and economic disaster. A single day without water service nationwide would put $43.5 billion in economic activity at risk. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that $743 billion of investment in water and wastewater infrastructure is needed over the next two decades just to meet existing environmental and health standards. This estimate doesn’t include complying with new regulatory mandates and the effects of climate change, which could cost hundreds of millions of dollars to address.
The health and prosperity of America is largely dependent upon an unseen network of underground water pipes that many customers take largely for granted. At the RWA, we address the issue of aging infrastructure by historically investing over $30 million annually in improvements to provide for present and future water supply requirements, and to meet rigorous state and federal water quality standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Investing in water creates cascading economic benefits, strengthening American competitiveness, raising gross domestic product, creating local jobs, increasing wages and growing our economy. The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) at the U.S.Department of Commerce estimates that for every dollar spent on water infrastructure, $2.63 is generated in the private economy. For every job added to the water workforce, the BEA estimates that 3.68 jobs are added in the national economy.
Reliable, clean drinking water is a resource like no other. For more than 170 years, the RWA has been working with purpose and passion, knowing that we are managing an extraordinary resource with endless benefits for consumers and communities. As we observe World Water Day, it is important for those of us who are dedicated to producing and delivering clean, safe drinking water to make it clear that climate change and access to water remain formidable challenges. Managing our water resources is one of the most important challenges facing the planet in the coming decades.
In recognition of this World Water Day, let’s recommit to becoming better stewards of this resource. The decisions we make now about land use, drought and the financial investments needed to address aging infrastructure and climate change will play a large role in the future of accessible drinking water. Take a stand with us today and commit to using water wisely, supporting climate change legislation to help water systems adapt to changing conditions, encouraging public officials to prioritize investments in water, and living more sustainably.
Our future depends on it.
Larry L. Bingaman is President and Chief Executive Officer of The South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority.