We Need to Build More Than Just a Wall: Part II
Harsh Tiwari, Fiscal Policy
In the first Part of my series, I explored why President Trump needs to invest in the transportation and energy infrastructure sector of America’s economy. This week, I will explore another important part of our infrastructure: water infrastructure.
Investment in water resources and infrastructure is a major necessity. The 2017 Infrastructure report card states that “Small [water] systems that serve 17.4% of the population frequently lack both economies of scale and financial, managerial, and technical capacity, which can lead to problems of meeting Safe Drinking Water Act standards. Drinking water is delivered via one million miles of pipes across the country. Many of those pipes were laid in the early to mid- 20th century with a lifespan of 75-100 years. With utilities averaging a pipe replacement rate of 0.5% per year, it will take an estimated 200 years to replace the system – nearly double the useful life of the pipes.”
Thus, it is crucial that the water systems of the US receive investment for repair before it is too late. However, the investment in such repairs cannot be effective in the short term and there is a need for step-by-step investment for full-scale rebuilding of water
Apart from being in a state of disrepair, water infrastructure is also inadequately funded. The report card states that “[i]n 2014, Congress authorized a new mechanism to fund primarily large water infrastructure projects over $20 million through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA). In 2016 Congress appropriated $17 million in funds for the program. It is estimated that using WIFIA’s full financial leveraging ability that a single dollar injected into the program can create $50 dollars for project lending. Under current appropriations, EPA estimates that current budget authority may provide more than $1 billion in credit assistance and may finance over $2 billion in water infrastructure investment.” However, such funding is doing little to help the modernization of drinking water supply systems. There is a need for systemic, larger, consistent and gradual investment.
Congressional support for investment in water resources is unlikely to run into hurdles since it is palatable to both Democrats and Republicans. An investment in drinking water is not likely to yield much economic output but the repair of pipelines will unquestionably spur employment. A similar situation is also observable with regard to water supply for purposes apart from drinking.
According to the US national climate change assessment, agriculture, water, energy and transportation are all affected by climate change. Heavy downpours, prolonged rains, and rapid melting of snowpack is causing rampant flooding. This flooding exceeds the limits of flood protection infrastructure designed for historical conditions. Additionally, climate change is expected to affect water demand, groundwater withdrawals, and aquifer recharge, reducing groundwater availability in some areas.
The message here is clear. Investment in water-saving technologies, flood protection/prevention infrastructure is a crucial necessity and such a measure is prudent irrespective of whether climate change is real or not.
The need for water is obvious and so is the dismal status of its management and availability. The only thing that is needed now is coherent policy, which I believe should not be difficult to formulate or implement. Trump’s presidential bid was filled with rhetoric on building more than just a wall and I hope that, given the circumstances, such rhetoric translates into action.
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