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Economic prosperity flows in underground pipes, water mains

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Water is an essential ingredient to Arizona’s economy. There is an unmistakable connection between maintaining and updating infrastructure and economic prosperity.

Cities and states are more likely to thrive in this fast-changing global economy if they provide safe, reliable water for their residents and businesses. That means having the foresight and the determination to address needs before they arise. Repairing and replacing things like water mains, fire hydrants and miles of underground pipes may not be a trending topic on Twitter, but it provides a foundation for a diversified economy.

Joe Gysel

Joe Gysel

From aerospace to agriculture to advanced manufacturing, companies take water supplies into consideration when making decisions about where to locate. Building or expanding a company in a city or state with restricted water use can be an obstacle to job creation. Aging and deteriorating water systems threaten economic vitality and public health. We need to shift from a reactive mindset on infrastructure to a proactive one. Sound infrastructure investment looks a lot like sound retirement savings – investing now means more money later when you need it.

In 2016, I testified on Capitol Hill in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works as president of the National Association of Water Companies. I stressed to the committee the importance of advancing sustainable solutions to meet the nation’s current water infrastructure needs and to ensure the delivery of the most basic need for millions of Americans.

At the time, the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, was a stark reminder of how we need to be vigilant when it comes to managing our water supply and planning for its future. That vigilance on infrastructure investment can be seen in the form of repairs or upgrades which, if performed sooner rather than later, saves money in the long term for customers. If the system falls into disrepair – such as pipes that keep leaking or major parts that need to be replaced at treatment plants – the cost to customers is much greater.

Infrastructure investment offers other ways to save money. One example: Layering a community’s roadwork construction schedule on top of our schedule for line replacements or repairs means roads are disrupted only once, making these projects more efficient, less costly and less inconvenient for customers and communities.

But communities need to do some catching up first – and it will be an uphill climb. In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure a D and D+ grade, respectively. Communities around the country are faced with massive fiscal challenges to replace critical infrastructure.

Clean and reliable water is foundational to every community’s economic engine and its quality of life. This will require investment to maintain and improve current systems and looking for new resources and programs to augment our current supply. Here at EPCOR, we are investing about $635 million over the next 10 years in infrastructure – creating nearly 300 construction jobs per year. Along with other regulated water utilities in Arizona, this is a top priority. These are needs none of us can afford to ignore.

EPCOR is making important investments that fuel our economy and will help replace and strengthen aging infrastructure. We maintain 117 miles of water and wastewater pipeline – nearly the distance between Phoenix and Flagstaff – that is 50 years old or greater and we’ve recently needed to replace wells that were installed as far back as the Great Depression. We are investing $95 million to build the Luke 303 Regional Water Reclamation Facility, which will create 4,400 acres of future residential and business growth along Loop 303 near Luke Air Force Base. That stretch of freeway is emerging as a catalyst of future commerce, bringing jobs, businesses and retail space to the West Valley.

EPCOR and regulated water utilities across the country, and our partners in the public utility sphere, share a deep commitment to responsible stewardship of our resources as we face the crucial challenges of drought and aging infrastructure. We continue to work with our elected leaders on funding programs that, when combined with the private sector, can deliver much-needed resources for water sustainability now and in the future.

Infrastructure Week 2017, from May 15-19, is a week-long spotlight on the importance and state of America’s roads, bridges, highways, power grids, ports, airports, water systems and more. But the infrastructure backbone that fuels our economy and our way of life deserves far more than a single week.

At EPCOR, our commitment will not waver. We will continue to help sustain communities across the state by making smart, strategic water infrastructure investments. It’s a commitment we make every day, because Arizona’s future depends on it.

— Joe Gysel is president of EPCOR Water USA.

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The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

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