The American Society of Civil Engineers published its Infrastructure Report Card, offering insight into the condition of domestic infrastructure. The report includes ratings for key service delivery networks and transportation fixtures. Drinking water systems ranked near the bottom, perhaps unsurprising for those with the recent crisis in Flint, Michigan, fresh in their minds.
Roughly 51,000 community water systems run beneath the country, serving more than 300 million Americans, according to the Brookings Institute. Unfortunately, many of these essential channels are swiftly falling into disrepair. An estimated 240,000 water mains break per year, the ASCE found. Even those that manage to stay intact cause problems, as ineffective treatment processes and lead leaching contaminate the drinking water that flows through them. In fact, many families consume water that nears or surpasses the Environmental Protection Agency’s lead concentration threshold of 15 parts per billion, The New York Times reported.
Why are American water systems falling apart? Age. Most of the pipes in use were constructed to last 75 to 100 years and laid during the early or middle 20th century, according to the ASCE. This means most need to be replaced. Sadly, capital is difficult to obtain. Government agencies, both federal and state, have reduced water system maintenance budgets in recent years. The ASCE suggests a funding gap of around $1 trillion now exists as a result. With this chasm growing larger every day, legislators and other stakeholders must take action. If Flint is any indication, public health depends on it.