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Rethinking Water Infrastructure

U.S. water systems are deteriorating. Heavily populated cities are facing unreliable water sources and supply. This problem may seem exclusive to the third world, but there have been an increasing number of cases in the U.S. where water has become scarce.

America needs a modernized approach to water that uses resilient infrastructure and brings reliability back to our water supply. 

If you’re talking about American water trouble, you’ll certainly hear about Flint, Michigan. While a travesty on its own, the Flint incident is not the only example of unreliable water infrastructure in the U.S. Highly populated states like Texas and regions like Southern California face an especially uncertain future.

Pair periodic droughts and climate change with unstable funding and we get ourselves a water crisis. Dry and infrastructure-deprived areas are most at risk.

There are standards in place to ensure water quality, but regulations are divided between the federal government and states. Divided regulation means divided responsibility. Given government inefficiency, things are bound to slip through the cracks.

Advocacy for increased federal oversight has small government fanatics screaming about tyranny and state autonomy. But with current approaches to water regulation, we get situations like Flint and Native American communities left without clean water. 

So, with all the dissonance, how should we be approaching water infrastructure?  How do we achieve a synergy of sustainability, trust and resilience?

First, we need more comprehensive assessments. We need an updated map that details the strain on individual states' water supplies. While maps of this kind have been done before, new maps need to take into consideration how climate change will impact current and future infrastructure.

This will show us which regions are heavily impacted and which factors play a role in the regions’ strain. It’s intuitive: once we’ve fully identified the problem, we can work on a solution. 

And here’s one potential solution, though perhaps a radical one: make water a right. The United Nations had resolutions to make water a right, but the U.S. never participated in the voting process.

Instead, America has trusted its current infrastructure and the legal status it gives water. And this is unlikely to change. Water is a good business, despite how publicly underfunded it is. Industries would rather watch water scarcity increase than reduce their profits.

Maybe this sounds cynical. But the incidents in Michigan, Texas, New York, Southern California and tribal regions leave nothing but cynicism. 

Another option: incorporate climate-resilient infrastructure. The goal is to reduce future costs to critical infrastructure and to create systems that are dependable and adaptable to the environment.

We’d reinvest and rethink how we manage, construct and operate water infrastructure. Our current water infrastructure isn't as reliable as it should be. An average of 700 water mains break in cities and towns across North America in an average day, a fact attributable to age and environmental corrosion. That costs Americans more than $1 billion a year. Even if rebuilding and rethinking means spending a pretty U.S. dollar, it's worth it. 

We are in a new era, the great rethink. We must think of ways to make the U.S. resilient again.

Rethinking the way the U.S. approaches water infrastructure is only one component in making Americans believe in the government and in improving the day-to-day lives of the entire population. 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author. 

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