Last Friday, the ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) released the 2017 infrastructure report card. The results… well let’s just say they’re not great. But this probably won’t come as a surprise to those who work with water and wastewater systems.
The Infrastructure Report Card
Every four years, the ASCE releases a report card for America’s infrastructure, depicting its condition and performance in the familiar form of a school report card, assigning letter grades based on physical condition and needed investments for improvement.
The ASCE Committee on America’s Infrastructure, made up of 28 civil engineers from across the country with decades of expertise in all categories. Committee members volunteer their time to work with ASCE Infrastructure Initiatives staff to prepare the Infrastructure Report Card. The Committee assesses all relevant data and reports, consults with technical and industry experts, and assigns grades using the following key criteria:
- Capacity: Does the infrastructure’s capacity meet current and future demands?
- Condition: What is the infrastructure’s existing and near-future physical condition?
- Funding: What is the current level of funding from all levels of government for the infrastructure category as compared to the estimated funding need?
- Future Need: What is the cost to improve the infrastructure? Will future funding prospects address the need?
- Operation and Maintenance: What is the owners’ ability to operate and maintain the infrastructure properly? Is the infrastructure in compliance with government regulations?
- Public Safety: To what extent is the public’s safety jeopardized by the condition of the infrastructure and what could be the consequences of failure?
- Resilience: What is the infrastructure system’s capability to prevent or protect against significant multi-hazard threats and incidents? How able is it to quickly recover and reconstitute critical services with minimum consequences for public safety and health, the economy, and national security?
- Innovation: What new and innovative techniques, materials, technologies, and delivery methods are being implemented to improve the infrastructure?
The Nation's Grades For Drinking Water and Wastewater
Nationally, the ASCE rated the country’s 2017 drinking water infrastructure at a D, and wastewater infrastructure at a D+ (a slight improvement over 2013’s ranking of D).
On the grading scale, a D is defined as: Poor, at risk. The country’s eater and wastewater infrastructure is in poor to fair condition and mostly below standard, with many elements approaching or past the end of their service life. A large portion of the system exhibits significant deterioration. Condition and capacity are of serious concern with strong risk of failure.
Fortunately, Wisconsin appears to be faring better than most states. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some serious investments that need to be made in the state. The report notes that Wisconsin requires the following:
- $1B in drinking water infrastructure needs in the next 20 years
- $6.33B in wastewater infrastructure needs over the next 20 years
A Marketer's Humble Opinion
The report suggests a number of key solutions to fix the problem, from establishing federal trust funds, to preserving tax exempt municipal bond financing.
But in my personal opinion, the root of it comes down to the American people stressing the importance of their drinking and wastewater treatment system to their representatives in local, state, and federal governments so proper funding is furnished.
Many Americans take clean drinking water and wastewater treatment for granted. Myself included. These are things all Americans expect to just be there. So how can municipalities drive change among this group, when they don’t even realize the significance of the problem?
Perhaps rates will be raised to meet the gap. This will certainly get customers to notice, but would it be enough? Currently, wastewater rates often do not cover the full cost of service, especially as systems age, new users are added, water quality standards rise and discharge limits decrease. So surely a hike in rates would help draw attention, but most definitely won’t solve the problem.
Over the next four years, before the next ASCE report comes out, municipalities should take a hard look at how they can change consumers’ perception. How do we get the public to realize their contribution to society effects human and environmental health? How do we get the public to help elevate the issue to their representatives?
As a marketer, my advice for water and wastewater departments is to become the squeakiest wheel. Your message is important. Because the public does not often see, or appreciate the importance of what you do, you must show them. Mobilize them, and help them to understand how their support (or lack thereof) will impact your service to them in the years ahead.
2017 has already seen a day without immigrants, and a day without women. Can you imagine a day without clean water? Or even a day without wastewater treatment? Fingers crossed it doesn’t come down to that.