Safe water is going to cost hundreds of billions of dollars
April 6, 2009

Two overlapping reports on the state of the nation's water infrastructure have just been issued, one from the EPA and the other from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Together, they say that communities in the United States will need to spend hundreds of billions of dollars over the next two decades to replace old equipment in their water systems and to bring water-treatment plants into compliance with Federal law. The largest component of spending will actually involve distribution systems, including pipes and pumping stations, and elevated water tanks. But plant equipment will account for at least a fifth of the spending, too. And it may become clear in many locations that portable water-quality monitors have a role to play, too, offering valuable information about the effectiveness of the treatment at the plant and the level of water quality that can be maintained throughout the distribution system. The scale of the work to be done is enormous: The EPA is talking about the need for $334.8 billion dollars over the next 20 years; by comparison, the government estimates that a routine Space Shuttle mission costs about half a billion dollars. But while clean drinking water and municipal fire protection aren't even remotely as sexy as space flight, every dollar invested in clean water systems needs to be compared with the costs of what happens when you don't have adequate municipal water service -- events like the fires and cholera epidemics of the 1800s. Sadly, there are still parts of the world where the lack of safe drinking water (and safe disposal of sewage) are killing thousands of people right now.

April 2009
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last revised April 2009