Bank on it

April 13, 2010

Our nation’s infrastructure is not getting any younger. Government officials and legislators can ignore or deny assets’ age, but the fact of the matter is that many of the structures and facilities that manage and treat storm water are coming up on or exceeding the end of their useful lives.

Combined sewer systems, remnants from an earlier construction era, continue to operate in more than 700 U.S. communities; overflow events send hundreds of billions of gallons of untreated wastewater into water bodies annually. Every day, hundreds of water mains burst across the country. And shockingly, primitive wooden pipes still serve some regions. Why not update or replace these outdated, high-liability systems? In the vast majority of cases, the roadblock is a desperate lack of funding.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency predicts that at current investment levels, the funding gap for water and wastewater infrastructure could stretch more than $500 billion wide by 2020. Recently, several infrastructure improvement interest groups have come together to rally for a National Infrastructure Bank that would help narrow this gap—and those of other underfunded sectors—by generating project investments.

Congress rejected President Obama’s $5-billion request to capitalize on a National Infrastructure Bank in 2010. When SWS asked whether such a bank would become a reality in 2011, 59% of poll respondents said no, that Congress will continue to turn a deaf ear to America’s infrastructure funding needs. Twenty-seven percent of poll takers believed that as assets fail and advocates band together, Congress will have no choice but to approve an infrastructure bank. The remaining 14% answered maybe, depending on the progress made on other key issues such as health care.

What are your thoughts on this issue? I wholeheartedly support investing in a National Infrastructure Bank and anticipate that the federal government will face the frightening facts and get one started in the next couple years. If approved, the bank could bring about much-needed funding reform and, in combination with related efforts, replace and rehabilitate the mains, manholes, treatment facilities and other storm water infrastructure that keeps our neighborhoods safe and dry.

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About the Author

Caitlin Cunningham