The drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is a stark reminder of how we need to be vigilant when it comes to managing our water supply and planning for its future. Just recently, I had the privilege of testifying on this very topic on Capitol Hill in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
I stressed to the chairman, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, and the rest of 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. Aging and deteriorating public water systems threaten economic vitality and public health.
Estimates for maintaining the nation’s water infrastructure are staggering – the EPA and the Government Accountability Office estimate the current funding gap to be as high as $1 trillion. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the nation’s water infrastructure a D grade. Communities around the country are faced with massive fiscal challenges to replace critical infrastructure, as we saw in Flint.
I testified to the committee in my role as president of the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) Board of Directors, a Washington, D.C.-based group that works with its state and regional chapters and with legislators at every level to support policies that increase public and private investment in water infrastructure.
NAWC has member utilities that range from large companies serving millions of customers in multiple states to utilities that serve just a few hundred connections. No matter the size, our goals are clear: Supply safe and reliable, high-quality water that we need every day to survive and thrive.
It is fortunate that at this moment in time, the leadership role on the NAWC board is coming from the Southwest. We know that water is an especially valuable commodity in our region and requires strong, sustainable management to preserve current resources and plan for our future.
As Governor Doug Ducey mentioned in this year’s State of the State address, “We sit in the Capitol city in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation in the middle of a desert.” In that speech, the governor directed a team of water experts to look at new, long-term sources for water here, to explore additional conservation opportunities and to identify future infrastructure needs.
He is making it a policy priority that clean and reliable water is foundational to Arizona’s economic engine and its quality of life. This will require investment to maintain and improve current systems as well as looking for new resources and programs to augment our current supply. Here at EPCOR, we take Governor Ducey’s charge to heart.
We are investing $500 million over the next 10 years in infrastructure. Along with other private water utilities in Arizona, this is a top priority. These are needs we can’t afford to ignore. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ most recent report card estimates that Arizona’s water and wastewater systems will need nearly $13 billion in infrastructure improvements, upgrades and repairs over the next 20 years.
In Arizona, private water companies provide service to 1-in-5 people. Private water companies in the U.S. serve more than 73 million people and their water systems produce 4.6 billion gallons of water a day that are used by our children, our businesses and our communities. They understand the challenges and the responsibilities that come with providing clean, safe and reliable water.
EPCOR and private water utilities across the country share a deep commitment to responsible stewardship of our resources as we face crucial challenges such as lingering drought and aging infrastructure. We continue to work with the federal government on funding programs that, when combined with the private sector, can deliver much-needed resources for water sustainability now and in the future.
Drinking water needs to be protected from source to tap to wise re-use. EPCOR recently participated in the Arizona Capitol Times’ “Morning Scoop” panel on this very topic and other water-related issues. I’m honored to also serve on the advisory board of Arizona State University’s Kyl Center for Water Policy and on the Water Resources Research Council External Advisory Committee at the University of Arizona.
Organizations like these provide a vital Southwestern point-of-view to the national water policy conversation. At EPCOR, we look forward to making sure these discussions lead to the sustainable future that Arizona deserves.
Joe Gysel is president of EPCOR Water USA.