Over the next 25 years, U.S. communities face the need to spend $1 trillion to repair, maintain and build new water infrastructure. That is according to “Buried No Longer: Confronting America's Water Infrastructure Challenge,” a report released by the Denver-based American Water Works Association (AWWA) in February. The report helps makes the association’s case for the creation of a federal Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority.

Drawing on nationwide data, surveys and historical information, the AWWA report seeks to describe the scope of the work needed to maintain water service and meet demands of a growing population. Water pipes and mains in many communities are well past their useful life and are crumbling and breaking, causing costly outages and emergency repair bills. Other communities are growing and need reliable infrastructure to supply water to homes and businesses. However, ratepayers have become accustomed to very low prices for water and are reluctant to pay directly for water infrastructure improvements, the report states.

The report has six key findings:

  1. The needs are large and will exceed $1.7 trillion by 2050.
  2. Household water bills will go up.
  3. There are important regional differences: Growth is a bigger concern in the South and West, and repair is a larger concern in the Northeast and Midwest.
  4. There are important differences based on system size. Small communities face bigger cost challenges.
  5. The costs keep coming and will not disappear.
  6. Postponing investment only makes the problem worse. Water main breaks are more likely to occur on older pipes.

AWWA says that communities must invest more heavily in water infrastructure repair and maintenance to meet those demands, and they need more access to low-cost financing options to do so. AWWA advocates for the creation of a federal Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority (WIFIA), modeled after the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), which would access U.S. Treasury funds to provide low-interest loans, loan guarantees or other credit support to water projects.

For more information about the report and its findings, watch the video below and visit www.awwa.org.