I spent much of last week in New Orleans at the Water Environment Federation’s annual conference and exposition, soaking up the latest water industry intelligence. On one hand, you could say that there are no great surprises in terms of the water and wastewater infrastructure, much of which is at or past the critical stage. Estimates of these ranged from $500 billion to more than $1 trillion that must be addressed in the next couple of years, so not surprisingly a good portion of discussion centered on funding options.
While many of these projects fall under the headings of repair or upgrade, a substantial number involve replacement or the installation of entirely new systems to meet what amount to catastrophic challenges. Normally, I try and avoid crisis mongering, but in far too many cases the situation reached the point that public health and safety are at risk, presenting us with options that become less susceptible to success with each passing year.
One of the largest hurdles we face is the inertia brought about by the desire of many local officials to analyze things nearly to death, only to arrive at the conclusion after straining precious budgets to the breaking point, that “Yes, we’ve got a problem, but we’re out of resources to do much about it.”
It’s important that we let decisionmakers know that in the vast majority of cases it’s not more study that’s needed; rather, it is action. If the overseers of failing water conveyance systems need a study to tell them where the problems are, maybe they need to be among the early items in need of replacement. But first on the list should be getting a shovel or a bucket to where known problems are and fixing them.