The Infrastructure Bill and What It Could Mean for City Water

It’s no secret that America’s water infrastructure is falling apart, and with this article we’ll only be discussing the water side of the bill (this is not a political post). Our nation’s drinking water systems and wastewater treatment facilities are nearing the end of their respective design lives, causing lead to leach from pipes into public drinking water. But make no mistake; it’s not just a lead contamination problem. We also have sewage overflowing into source water, leaking pipes and water mains introducing bacteria and harmful chemicals into our homes and businesses, and many more issues that need urgent attention. The good news is that a large part of the recently approved $1.2 trillion infrastructure package aims to modernize and upgrade the nation’s aging and outdated infrastructure and hopefully solve those issues.

Before we dive deeper into this bill, let’s start by looking at how significant the problems are with clean water in America right now. Right after, we’ll discuss how this bill is trying to tackle the problems and what it could mean for city water.

Why a water infrastructure bill now?

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently released its 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, assigning letter grades based on our infrastructure’s physical condition, performance, and needed investments for improvement. Based on the scores on this report card, it’s not one you’d want to take home to your parents.

Our overall infrastructure received a shameful “C-,” slightly increasing from a disgraceful “D+” in 2017. Our dams scored a “D,” drinking water got a “C-,” and our storm water and wastewater systems scored a “D” and a “D+,” respectively. It’s not a good look. While increased attention has led to better strategies and smarter investments, the infrastructure as a whole remains critically underfunded and beyond its planned life expectancy.

Here is a glimpse of some of the issues affecting Americans as a whole:

  • According to the ASCE 2021 report card, there’s a water main break every two minutes along the nation’s 2.2 million miles of pipes (totaling nearly 238,000 breaks per year), wasting an estimated six billion gallons of treated water each day.
  • Between 2004 and 2017, sources estimate 10 to 37 leaks and breaks per 100 miles of pipes. Smaller water utilities can experience twice as many pipe breaks than larger ones, typically because smaller utilities often have more miles of pipes per customer and a smaller customer base to obtain revenue. As a result, smaller utilities tend to have less capital for repairs and asset management.
  • Between 2012 and 2018, the rate of water main breaks spiked up 27% to about 300,000 breaks per year. Leaking pipes lost about $7.6 billion worth of treated water in 2019, a loss that’s projected to double over the next two decades, which would amount to $16.7 billion in 2039. American businesses most reliant on a robust water supply are also feeling the pinch and will likely have to fork out $250 billion in 2039 to address water service disruptions.

America’s drinking water infrastructure consists of 2.2 million miles of pipes, most of which are installed underground – out of sight and out of mind for many people. Some of the oldest pipes along the network were laid in the 19th century. Pipes laid before World War II have an average life span of 75 to 100 years. If we did the math on that, we’d see why many of them are deteriorating and causing all kinds of problems for Americans.

There’s also the problem of shrinking budgets, climate change, and other factors threatening the population with the risk of losing access to clean drinking water, plus contamination from sewer spills and threats to home and safety from storms and flooding. But perhaps the biggest of all is lead pipes leaching lead into our drinking water and causing water contamination and economic disruptions to urban and rural communities (think the Flint, Michigan water crisis). Unfortunately, many elements that travel through water pipes can also corrode lead – yes, even water. Acidity, alkalinity, and water’s oxygen molecules can leach lead from old lead pipes and introduce them into the water supply.

While lead in water often makes the news, especially front Flint, Michigan, other chemicals threaten our water supplies and public health. For example, a recent study published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) shows that PFAS is incredibly prevalent and persistent in tap water. PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), manufactured chemicals used in everyday consumer goods like nonstick cookware and water- and stain-resistant clothing and furniture, are incredibly harmful in low doses and do not break down in our bodies. Studies on laboratory animals, supported by evidence from studies on humans, indicate that exposure to specific PFAS over certain levels could result in adverse health effects. Although more research is needed, some studies have shown that common PFAS like PFOA and PFOS may cause high cholesterol, weight gain, thyroid disease, heart disease, cancer, and even possible congenital disabilities.

What’s in the Water Infrastructure Bill?

The infrastructure bill is the largest federal investment in clean water in American history. It aims to spend over $50 billion in federal financing and funding to overhaul our aging infrastructure and address our nation’s water infrastructure needs.

Here are some key provisions included in this water infrastructure package:

  • Water (especially pipes): After the Flint, Michigan, lead contamination crisis, there is a renewed focus on ensuring America’s water infrastructure gets upgraded. The bill includes $15 billion specifically for lead pipe replacement. There is also $10 billion to clean up PFAS chemicals. The bill also sets aside money for clean drinking water for Tribal communities.
  • Provides grants to reduce lead in drinking water – $500 million over five years for the Lead Reduction Grant program; $250 million over five years for Voluntary Lead Testing in Schools; and creates a new Lead Inventorying Utilization Grant at $10 million available until expended.
  • Western water infrastructure: As parts of the West continue to suffer droughts, the bill designates several billion dollars to invest in water treatment, storage, and reuse facilities to help mitigate these issues.
  • $1.4 billion over five years for the sewer overflow and storm water reuse municipal grant program to help communities better manage their wet weather flows and invest in green infrastructure and water and energy efficiency projects.
  • $25 million over five years for water infrastructure and workforce investment grants to address recruitment, training, and retention challenges facing the water and wastewater utility workforce.
  • Authorizes $550 million annually for five years in new grant programs for nonprofit organizations and public treatment works to help eligible households connect to existing drinking water or wastewater infrastructure or install or upgrade decentralized wastewater systems.
  • Provides grants for water infrastructure resiliency and sustainability programs for communities to increase the resiliency or adaptability of water systems to natural hazards, including extreme weather events due to climate change at a combined total of $500 million over five years for drinking water and wastewater. This includes specific grants for small and disadvantaged communities ($25 million annually) and medium and large systems ($50 million annually) for drinking water resiliency and assistance to communities of all sizes looking to fortify their wastewater systems from the impacts of climate change ($25 million annually).

What could the infrastructure bill mean for city water?

The infrastructure bill seeks to solve many of the water quality issues plaguing homes and businesses across America. If all goes as planned, we could see cleaner, better-quality water running through our pipes, meaning fewer contaminants in our drinking water, healthier skin and hair, longer-lasting pipes, plumbing fixtures, and water-using appliances.

As you probably know, lead has been a significant concern for Americans, especially since the Flint, Michigan lead crisis. If this package is distributed correctly and the proper strategic procedures are followed, we could experience less lead contamination in our water supplies. That means possibly fewer cases of lead poisoning through drinking water and fewer trips to the doctor due to lead ingestion. Also, the bill aims to tackle toxic chemicals in water such as PFAS, pesticides, herbicides, and others. Hence, there would be less of those chemicals in city water, therefore lowering the risk of cancer, thyroid disease, congenital disabilities, and other health complications associated with these chemicals.

The lack of investment in water infrastructure in low-income communities throughout the years has led to severe water problems in many of these communities. Even worse, some communities are “cut off” from the public supply because of significant damages to municipal water lines and water mains. The investments set aside for these communities could help bring running water to homes and businesses in those areas and reduce many of the water issues they’ve been dealing with for years.

Lastly, with the infrastructure and drinking water systems modernized and improved, the quality of city water could increase significantly, leading to happier and healthier homes, tastier meals and beverages, more enjoyable baths and showers, longer-lasting plumbing and appliances, etc.

Protecting Your Household Water

There’s no doubt that the infrastructure package is a much-needed step in the right direction. However, we still want to do our best to keep our drinking water safe until these suggested plans come to pass. It’s also a good idea to prepare for any unfortunate event regarding the bill, such as delays in funding and financing, a lack of co0rporation among those in charge, biased decisions, and many others. Considering all this, we recommend investing in a reliable water treatment system for your home to eliminate lead, toxic chemicals, and other contaminants known to invade drinking water supplies, mainly due to our fragile infrastructure.

Your best option is to use a water filter or water filtration system in your home. Carbon filters have proven to effectively remove lead, PFAS, pesticides, and other contaminants from city water but can be too costly for cities to purchase for wide scale usage. Ideally, get one with all the right features, technologies, and certified components to properly filter your water, like our CF1 whole-house water filtration system. Finally, if you live in an older home and it’s cost-effective for you, consider changing your home’s plumbing and service lines if they contain lead. It will surely be worth it for your health and peace of mind.

Final Thoughts

America’s water infrastructure has been in chaos for some time, as systems built in the first half of the 20th century have already started to age, and now they confront added pressure from accelerating climate change and population growth in urban areas. The passage of the recent infrastructure bill could jump start investments across the broader water sector to solve many water quality issues in our communities. It could also help create a more robust and efficient water system to better serve homes in urban and rural areas. However, it could take some time to see any real change because it’s only been a short time since the bill was passed. So, in the meantime, we urge you to invest in a quality water filtration system to protect you and your family from the multitude of dangerous water contaminants leaching into your home from corroding pipes, water main breaks, etc. If you have any questions about our CF1 whole-house water filtration system or any of our other unique and reliable water filtration systems, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.