Beyond the Hashtag: Cities Hoping to Survive

The hashtag is #TimeToBuild, but the simplicity of the slogan hides the urgency that cities and states are feeling to stop wasting time, money and natural resources. Discussions about the dire state of our nation’s infrastructure -- water lines, road systems, electrical grids and broadband access -- have been percolating in communities across the United States for years. At Buoy, we are focused on water, on using it efficiently, managing it well, saving it when we can and catching leaks before they cause damage. Almost every community in the United States needs to repair its water infrastructure in some way, and with some solutions in the planning stages and others shovel-ready, legislatures have begun funding long overdue initiatives. This week, May 15-19, is National Infrastructure Week, and some of the most innovative, dedicated experts are gathering in Washington D.C. and across the nation to focus on improving our nation’s critically underfunded backbone.

Most often, cities and states have postponed work due to budgetary reasons, but ideological differences about land acquisition and use, environmental impact, the role of public-private partnerships, and rapidly changing technology also play a role. Global warming has changed weather patterns, causing the drought/flood cycles to become more intense. On top of complicated water management issues, fewer years of moderate weather between times of drought and flood means the nitrogen and fertilizers used in agriculture wash into surface water, degrading drinking water and costing millions of dollars for small water agencies to clean.

Water infrastructure is a colossal issue. Sources of fresh water are rapidly declining and demand is growing, but we can mitigate that imbalance with serious investment in repairs. Water mains leak, toxic chemicals leach into unprotected reservoirs, and, this winter, the emergency spillway in the largest dam in the United States started crumbling, causing the emergency evacuation of 200,000 people below the Oroville Dam. Cities and states are finally spending the time and money on solutions, and scientists and technologists across disciplines are focused on innovating. But these rapid advancements are a double-edged sword: No one wants to commit to massive infrastructure repairs based on new technology only to have a better, cheaper technology emerge just as the new water system comes online. Improvements in wastewater management and water filtration have made water agencies and state legislatures hesitant to spend big money on current technology.

 

Below are just a few of the states and cities, large and small, that are committed to making repairs. Take a look at what they’re funding in their quest for clean, cost-effective, sustainable water for this century and beyond:

  • New York State pledged $2.5 billion for statewide water projects, including drinking and sewer infrastructure, water quality improvement projects, septic systems, IT upgrades, watershed improvements and more
  • Flint, Michigan will receive $100 million from the Environmental Protection Agency and at least $20 million from the state to replace lead pipes and make other system-wide improvements
  • Pennsylvania is spending $39 million to fix sewage collection lines and water storage tanks, reduce runoff from agricultural work, and improve water quality that will, in turn, boost the number of water-cleaning mussels in several bays
  • Kansas City, Missouri is repairing all 2,800 miles in its network of water mains in an effort to drastically reduce the number of leaks from the more than 1,800 per year they experienced in years past
  • Cuyuna, Minnesota is making a large investment for its size; the town of 340 people is spending $1.34 million to upgrade its aging sewer collection system to prevent leaks
  • Water agencies across the country are upgrading to smart meters, including some whose water users currently pay a flat rate for unlimited water each month

Many 2017-18 state budgets have yet to be approved by legislatures, but every state has large infrastructure projects on tap: dams, river maintenance, sewer upgrades, water mains, drinking water purification, drought management, environmental protections and more. These projects are no longer optional. We have put off funding infrastructure for decades, and if we need a week every year to remind us to pay attention, that is what we will do. Send an email, call your elected officials, vote to fund a bond, use the hashtag if you must, but it’s time to get involved.