American Water Works' Curtis says safety and accessibility at risk due to aging infrastructure

Are public safety and health at risk due to the nation's aging water infrastructure? During today's OnPoint, Tom Curtis, deputy executive director at the American Water Works Association, discusses a new report outlining recommendations for Congress on how best to address the country's water infrastructure. Curtis also talks about the economic and regional challenges lawmakers will need to address in their policy.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Tom Curtis, deputy executive director at the American Water Works Association. Tom, thanks for coming on the show.

Tom Curtis: Thank you, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Tom, American Water Works recently released a new report on the nation's water infrastructure and this issue has really been discussed for some time, but it's really gaining traction in Congress right now. Assess for us where water policy stands in relation to what the nation's infrastructure looks like. Is enough being done?

Tom Curtis: Well, first, if I may, the findings of our report suggests that God gave us the water. He forgot to give us the pipes. Our forebears did that and they have served us well and lasted a long time, but they can't last forever. They do need to be replaced and we're going to all see rising need for investment in new pipes and new infrastructure in the coming years. I think the issue is gaining traction in Congress and in the public awareness, but probably not enough yet.

Monica Trauzzi: So, what exactly is wrong with the pipes at this point? Are they just getting older, corroding? Is that impacting the health and safety of the water that's flowing through them?

Tom Curtis: There are two major challenges that water utilities face. First is that the pipes are getting older. They last a long time, but they're not immortal. Eventually, water pipes come to the end of their service life and then they simply have to be replaced. They can corrode from the inside and the outside. And the second challenge that we face is that as the population has grown many of the pipes are simply too small to continue to provide adequate water service. There are more people drawing water out of a pipe that may have been put down 50, 60, 70 years ago and that means that there's maybe insufficient water pressure in that pipe or insufficient volume of water to adequately serve the people who draw water out of that pipe. And it may simply need to be increased in size.

Monica Trauzzi: So, water seemingly would be one of those issues that both parties in Congress should agree on. What are some of the main sticking points that you're hearing about in Congress as they sort of start discussing policy?

Tom Curtis: It should be an issue that's bipartisan. Everybody drinks water every day. Water underpins our economy, our way of life. It's essential to fire protection and it protects public health, so it certainly should be a bipartisan issue. What we hear on Capitol Hill is that there simply isn't any money or at least not very much money. The country does face a serious fiscal challenge it appears and that is a problem. We've got a solution to that or at least an idea that we're trying to talk about on Capitol Hill, but simply finding the money is a big part of the challenge.

Monica Trauzzi: So, what's the idea, the people pay for it?

Tom Curtis: Well, certainly people are going to pay more. We believe that Americans are best served by water systems that are supported locally through rates and charges that reflects the true value of water service. And we think it's a bad thing for a community to be dependent on other people outside the community to support its water infrastructure. The idea that we're hoping to sell to Congress and the American people is basically a credit support program in which the federal government lowers the cost of financing water projects by making very low-interest loans available. That means your community could borrow money at the lowest possible rate to finance infrastructure projects and that helps hold down the cost of the project and ultimately helps consumers with the water bill.

Monica Trauzzi: So, in your conversations with folks on the Hill, how would you assess the level of education that there is on water issues in the United States?

Tom Curtis: As you said earlier, awareness is growing on this problem, but more work needs to be done, without any question. People don't grasp the magnitude of the need. The AWWA report documented a trillion dollars in needed investment just for drinking water infrastructure within the next 25 years. The amount for wastewater infrastructure is probably just as great. Then there are storm water and wet weather control issues to be added to the total. The national total for water and wastewater infrastructure combined is very significant. I don't think that policymakers yet grasp the full magnitude of the need.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it right there on that note. Thank you for coming on the show.

Tom Curtis: You're very welcome.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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