Our nation’s drinking water infrastructure is in desperate need of attention. Last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our water system a C- and their economic study found that the annual drinking water and wastewater investment gap will eventually grow to $434 billion by 2029. The fact is that our nation’s drinking water infrastructure requires a massive investment.
President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act includes $50 billion for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure improvements. This funding is significant, and the list of drinking water infrastructure needs is extensive. Water systems need resources to hire and train personnel, maintain operations, replace and service aging pipes, and meet regulatory drinking water standards. With limited resources, there are important decisions to be made at the federal, local and state levels.
We must ensure government funds are distributed and spent on the most pressing issues that address the greatest public health risks. These taxpayer dollars must be carefully allocated using a science-based, risk- and cost-benefit analysis of drinking water issues. It’s not always beneficial to public health nor economically viable to address every potential or new water threat. Sometimes the greatest risk to water is the oldest issue, like aged drinking water pipes. It’s incumbent on our drinking water utilities and public health departments to prioritize the highest risk in public health threats. Applying a risk- and cost-benefit approach compares the range of pressing issues and helps determine the most beneficial public health investment.
Fortunately, this cost and risk-benefit analysis is woven into drinking water laws designed to protect our water supply. The Safe Drinking Water Act requires that regulations for our drinking water systems demonstrate a “meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction.” Since the Act was passed, proposed drinking water rules and regulations have been evaluated against this “meaningful” standard, and those that met it were set in motion.
Chad Seidel, Ph.D., P.E.
President, Corona Environmental Consulting & Council member