Infrastructure’s Inflection Point

Planning today for tomorrow’s water infrastructure


As evinced by the number of water main breaks, failed water quality tests, and low scores on infrastructure report cards, the network of pumps and pipes that keep America’s lifeblood flowing is in dismal shape.

Not only is repairing the aging system necessary in order to address the most critical issues and maintain current levels of service, also imperative is the development of a long-range strategy that will carry our water infrastructure into the future and address emerging concerns.

Today’s water conveyance and treatment systems were designed long ago, when climate change, fossil fuel reliance, groundwater overdraft, and energy expenditures were far from anyone’s consciousness. Therefore, as concerns about limited resources have arisen and priorities have shifted, it’s become necessary for traditional infrastructure designs to evolve in parallel.

As Lyn Broaddus writes in a recent Brookings article, “Times have changed. We are at an inflection point with water infrastructure. We can choose to stay the course, rebuild and repair using tried-and-true designs that have been with us for decades, designs that will magnify today’s challenges. Or we can rethink how we’ll invest our trillion-dollar water opportunity to ensure safe, sufficient, affordable, and resilient water and sanitation services.”

Leading the charge are forward-thinking utilities like Oakland, CA’s East Bay Municipal Utility District, which has demonstrated the feasibility of water reuse and energy generation. In addition, a number of cities across the US are proving that smaller-scale distributed water treatment systems are key to energy efficiency and urban resiliency.

Infrastructure Week seems like the perfect time to begin reimagining our water infrastructure. This week of discussion and heightened awareness represents an opportunity to rethink the ways that we ensure the availability, resiliency, and the affordability of water, our most precious natural resource.

Rather than simply patch together the current system, this week’s initiatives offer us a chance to look at what our local, state, and national infrastructure priorities are and reinvest in technologies that will carry those systems forward into the future.

Do you feel that it’s important to project forward with water infrastructure planning? What issues do you consider most important to address?WE_bug_web

  • Mark Paul Low.

    The one line item that must be addressed is “Corruption.”

  • Howard Heil.

    Our industry operates (D+) water systems without forward thinking . I developed a suppression system , as used on smaller systems to reduce main breaks , and dozens of utilities have enjoyed success. Most operators understand the concept, but fail to alert their engineers . With adequate suppression, lifetime of cast iron mains could be doubled. I’ve had utilities workers complain of the concept killing their overtime.

  • Tamim Younos.

    Relevant recent articles:
    Lee, J. and T. Younos. 2018. Sustainability Strategies at the Water–Energy Nexus: Renewable Energy and Decentralized Infrastructure. Featured Article, Jour. AWWA 110:2, pp. 32-39.
    Lee, J., Bae, K.-H. and Younos, T. 2017. Conceptual framework for decentralized green water-infrastructure systems. Water and Environment Journal. doi:10.1111/wej.12305.

  • Daniel LaRouche.

    The money and time does not exist to be able to rebuild our water infrastructures as fast as needed. The only recourse is a comprehensive campaign for distributed responsibility to the homeowner/facility owner level. Within that context, cost pass-through will not work either. The technologies exist for immediate demand reduction for all of our natural resources. We just have to communicate what has to be done and close the loop with data and incentives.

    • Laura S.

      This is a really insightful comment. Thank you for sharing this perspective. How do you suggest we move forward with data and incentives?

      • Daniel LaRouche.

        Thank you for the kind reply.
        Waste at every level has value. There is global demand for almost everything that we are throwing away. Humanity has historically ignored it until recently. We have to be able to quantify the individual waste and value it. Waste processors in regions facing desperate scenarios are doing it and are offering credits. Once money enters the picture it will become personal and, 60% (rough guess) of the population will be on-board and asking for “how-to” advice. The concept is proven but the details are local and custom and are way beyond a blog discussion.


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