New Report on Aging Water Infrastructure Yields Local Stories

January 4, 2012

America's water infrastructure is aging and crumbling. Rebuilding it would not only generate jobs, but also lay down a foundation for future economic growth. Those conclusions came in a December 13, 2011, report from the American Society of Civil Engineers. It finds that a do-nothing policy will cost US businesses $147 billion over the next decade.

While the report does not list leaky sewers and unsafe drinking-water pipes town-by-town, it does offer a template for good local stories in most communities over 30 years old. The issues it raises are universal. All an environmental reporter has to do is apply them locally and ask a lot of questions.

You might want to get more familiar with your local drinking water and wastewater utilities and find out what the deal is near you. These may be handled or overseen by state or municipal agencies — or public or private utilities. Every locality is different.

What are the estimated maintenance and replacement backlogs in your local area? What is the estimated lifespan of your local pipes and treatment plants? How might repairs and upgrades be financed? What do local politicians feel about financing them? What are the environmental and public health consequences of letting the system deteriorate or fixing it up?

The Washington Post got a major story out of the water infrastructure issue January 2.