Imagine a day without water

by Lila A. Jaber

With the turn of a faucet knob, most Americans expect and receive clean, safe water. We drink it, we cook with it, we clean with it, and our kids play with it.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency data shows the average American family uses more than 300 gallons of water per day at home. Most of this water is used without understanding how we receive it or the process that is used to treat it. The lack of knowledge about the value of water and the true cost of this critical service has led to chronic underinvestment in water infrastructure in many areas of the country.

In the Tampa Bay region, water is frequently on the forefront of our minds. The ability to move water across the region and the state is key to our ability to live here. Water infrastructure is needed in keeping our businesses operating smoothly and getting our homes clean water for drinking and bathing but it’s also critical in moving water away from our homes and businesses during times of thunderstorms or hurricanes to prevent flooding.

The nation’s water infrastructure is in dire need of upgrades and replacements. This is due to the age of the infrastructure, 30 percent of which is between 40 and 80 years old, as well as the increasing demands of our growing and changing population.

The American Water Works Association’s report, Buried No Longer: Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge, estimates that the needed improvements to our country’s water infrastructure will cost over a trillion dollars in the next 25 years. The need for investment in water infrastructure transcends just underground pipes. Treatment facilities, pumps and storage tanks are all also in need of large investments. Since water is the only utility service that consumers ingest, we should all consider that a day without water could result in a public health and safety crisis, not to mention the potential economic impacts.

To add to the challenge, there is no “one size fits all” solution.

Each geographical region has different needs. Replacements and upgrades will differ drastically amongst both water system sizes and regions. Citizens in smaller communities, for instance, could be greatly impacted because costs are shared amongst fewer citizens.  For older cities and towns, the cost of replacing aging and leaky pipes, which can result in water losses of 25 percent to 35 percent, can be a significant burden.

Fortunately, there are several ways we can work toward solutions. Among them are water conservation strategies, efforts to raise awareness of the value of the services water and wastewater utilities provide, and public and private sector partnerships.

With respect to water conservation, every person can contribute by exercising a water-saving habit. Education is also an essential component and together, we can strive to raise awareness of water issues and use this knowledge to advocate for improved policy. We can also encourage public-private collaboration or consolidation to alleviate the highly fragmented water industry, which can help reduce costs on consumers.

In recognition of the “Imagine A Day Without Water” campaign Oct. 10, I urge everyone, no matter their role, to act today. The longer we wait to address our water challenges, the less time citizens have to secure the investments needed, leading to potentially higher price tags to accommodate a sustainable water infrastructure.

To this end, I encourage everyone to find a small way to show they value water. Whether it’s learning a new water conservation tip, spreading the word about critical water issues, or collaborating toward sound water policy — “water” we going to do about it?

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