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ASCE: Failure to Act: The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Water and Wastewater Treatment Infrastructure

December 15, 2011

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This American Society of Civil Engineers report examines the widening gap between water infrastructure requirements and investment.

Of all the infrastructure types, water is the most fundamental to life, and is irreplaceable for drinking, cooking, and bathing. Farms in many regions cannot grow crops without irrigation. Government offices, hospitals, restaurants, hotels, and other commercial establishments cannot operate without clean water. Moreover, many industries—food and chemical manufacturing and power plants, for example—could not operate without the clean water that is a component of finished products or that is used for industrial processes or cooling. Drinking-water systems collect source water from rivers and lakes, remove pollutants, and distribute safe water. Wastewater systems collect used water and sewage, remove contaminants, and discharge clean water back into the nation's rivers and lakes for future use. Wet weather investments, such as sanitary sewer overflows, prevent various types of pollutants like sewage, heavy metals, or fertilizer from lawns from ever reaching the waterways.

However, the delivery of water in the United States is decentralized and strained. Nearly 170,000 public drinking-water systems are located across the U.S. Of these systems, 54,000 are community water systems that collectively serve more than 264 million people. The remaining 114,000 are non-community water systems, such as those for campgrounds and schools. Significantly, more than half of public drinking-water systems serve fewer than 500 people.

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