Grading the Infrastructure

Oct. 1, 2010

The September explosion of a high-pressure gas pipeline in northern California has people all over the country looking uneasily not just at gas pipelines but at the infrastructure in general. Every disaster–a bridge collapse, a dam failure–calls public attention to the overall state of the infrastructure.

The American Society of Civil Engineers periodically issues a report card assigning letter grades to different aspects of the nation’s infrastructure. Although stormwater is not a separate category (drinking water and wastewater are), some of the categories such as dams, levees, and inland waterways certainly overlap with stormwater concerns.

The most recent report card, for 2009 (available at, gives an overall grade of D, with no individual category scoring higher than a C plus. It also includes a disheartening number: an estimate of how much we need to invest in the infrastructure over the next five years to keep things from getting worse. On the last report card, in 2005, the number was $1.6 trillion, while on the most recent it’s $2.2 trillion, indicating that we’re moving rapidly in the wrong direction.

There is no single “infrastructure fund,” of course; money for upgrades and repairs comes from individual cities and counties, from private entities, from stormwater utilities, from federal funding. And it’s uncommon, in our day-to-day work, to think of “the infrastructure” as a single, massive unit; we focus instead on the parts for which we’re responsible. Just for a moment, though, step back and consider the whole picture–information you’ve gleaned professionally, as a consumer of energy and water, perhaps even on your morning commute. In your part of the country, how would you rank the state of the stormwater infrastructure compared to the rest of it? 

About the Author

Janice Kaspersen

Janice Kaspersen is the former editor of Erosion Control and Stormwater magazines. 

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