Will Public-Private Partnerships Save Our Crumbling Water Infrastructure?

leaking hydrant photo

Photo by don.wing45 via Flickr Creative Commons

CNN recently reported that an average of 700 water mains break each day nationwide. While 700 might not seem like a lot when looking nationwide, the fact that that number occurs every day turns it into a big problem. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the drinking water system in the US a grade of D- in its 2009 Report Card of America's Infrastructure. It's a sign that our country's water infrastructure is outdated and crumbling, and is in major need of an overhaul if we're to avoid consequences to public health and property loss. However, who is to foot the bill and how might we go about making improvements? This is where both public and private sector water interests overlap. CNN reports that leaking pipes account for about 7 billion gallons of water each day -- that's water we can't afford to lose as supplies shrink. Yet the total cost to fix US water systems could equate to about $334.8 billion over 20 years. That's money that will be tough to find with so many other competing interests in a struggling economy, yet it has to be found somewhere since water is a basic necessity, and a basic human right.

"We also need a national political leadership that understands the extraordinary significance and importance of this investment and why it matters to them and why it will pay us back," District of Columbia water general manager George Hawkins told CNN. "Conservative or liberal does not matter."

Michael Deane, Executive Director of the National Association of Water Companies, notes on Huffington Post Green, "Various infrastructure problems trouble water system managers across the country -- it doesn't matter if they're working in the public or the private sector -- which is why our country's water ills will only be remedied with a positive joint partnership. When municipalities work in tandem with private water service providers, the end result is likely to be more efficient, transparent and a better value for the customer."

While the privatization of water can be a hot debate, fixing the major problems of our infrastructure -- much of which is over 80 years old -- will require collaboration. Yet perhaps the biggest challenge may be getting the topic put at the top of the to-do list in the first place.

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