Mar 03, 2021

ASCE Infrastructure Report Card: Drinking Water, Wastewater & Storm Water Grades

  • Drinking Water: C-
  • Wastewater: D+
  • Storm Water: D
ASCE Infrastructure Report Card Chair Kristina Swallow provided opening remarks during the live report card release March 3.
ASCE Infrastructure Report Card Chair Kristina Swallow provided opening remarks during the live report card release March 3.

The American Society of Civil Engineers 2021 Infrastructure Report Card graded U.S. infrastructure a C-, accounting for 17 categories.

Drinking water infrastructure received a C-, which is an increase for the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card when the category received a D. Wastewater received a D+, the same grade it received four years ago. And for the first time ever Storm Water was included in the report card. It received a D.

The overall grade of C- is the first time U.S. infrastructure has had an overall score in the C range in 20 years. ASCE noted in its press release that it considers this overall grade one of mediocrity that highlights deficient areas and verticals that need more attention. 

“This not a report card anyone would be proud to take home,” Said ASCE Executive Director Thomas Smith in the ASCE press release. “We have not made significant enough investments to maintain infrastructure that in some cases was built more than 50 years ago. As this study shows, we risk significant economic losses, higher costs to consumers, businesses and manufacturers – and our quality of life – if we don’t act urgently. When we fail to invest in infrastructure, we pay the price.”

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According to the ASCE press release, there are some major funding gaps and predictions of note based on its studies and understanding of all infrastructure categories.

  1. The infrastructure gap in the U.S. continues to grow in relation to long-term investment. That gap was $2.1 trillion over the course of the past decade. ASCE notes that its most recent study indicates that gap is now $2.59 trillion or $259 billion per year over a 10-year period.
  2. The longer the U.S. waits to invest in infrastructure, the bleaker the future in the U.S. will look. ASCE notes that “by 2039 the U.S. economy will lose $10 trillion in growth and exports will decline by $2.4 trillion” without significant investment. The press release goes on to say that by 2039 greater than 3 million jobs will be lost and that “each American household will bear $3,300 in hidden costs per year.”

As such, ASCE has called on Congress to take bold action on a large scale to immediately address the shortcomings of U.S. infrastructure. Read the full report here: infrastructurereportcard.org.

Drinking Water Grade: C-

Drinking water infrastructure received a score of C-. This is an increase from the score of D during the last report card. 

The ASCE reports that 2.2 million miles of pipe deliver water to Americans across the country. And annually there is an estimated 6 million gallons of water is lost due to water main breaks. 

Water utilities have shown progress in addressing these issues, and according to ASCE, around one-third of all utilities now have a robust asset management plan, compared to 20% of utilities in the previous report.

Below is an excerpt from the Condition & Capacity portion of the Drinking Water report:

Nearly half of water utilities report declining or flat total water sales in the past 10 years, largely due to efficiency improvements. Water usage dropped 3% from 2010 to 2015, despite a 4% increase in the nation’s total population. Due to declining water usage, there is currently adequate drinking water capacity in the U.S.

There are more than 148,000 active drinking water systems in the nation. Just 9% of all community water systems serve over 257 million people, while the bulk of community water systems — 91%, or nearly 46,000 in total — serve communities with populations under 10,000 people. About 13 million households in the nation rely on water from private wells.

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Funding is one of the areas in which the report states there could be major improvement. In fact to raise the grade, ASCE calls for tripling the annual appropriations for Drinking Water State Revolving Funds and fully funding the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act along with U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development programs.

The report specifically notes a federal shortfall in drinking water infrastructure investment. In 1977, the federal government accounted for 63% of capital spending for drinking water investment. In 2017, it accounted for 9%.

Read the full report here to learn more about the funding challenges, public safety, future need, resiliency and innovation as well as how ASCE believes the sector can raise its grade: https://infrastructurereportcard.org/cat-item/drinking-water/

During the ASCE Infrastructure Report Card live event reveal, wastewater and stormwater scores were shared on a national stage.
During the ASCE Infrastructure Report Card live event reveal, wastewater and stormwater scores were shared on a national stage.

Wastewater Grade: D+

Wastewater infrastructure received a score of D+. This is the same score it received four years ago in the 2017 report. 

According to ASCE, there are more than 16,000 wastewater facilities in the U.S. Of those facilities, 15% have met or exceeded their capacities while the rest on average run at around 81% of capacity. ASCE states there are 800,000 miles of public sewers and 500,000 miles of private laterals in the U.S., much of which is reaching the end of its service life. Addressing financing for operations and maintenance will be a critical part of addressing that aging infrastructure to raise the grade for wastewater. Below is an excerpt from the portion of the report relating specifically wastewater operations and maintenance:

According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, trends among municipal WWTPs show that nationwide O&M expenditures have increased by approximately 4% annually from 1993 to 2017, an increase partially due to deferred capital expenditures. Depending on the type of WWTP and the collection system, O&M spending varies. In rural areas where decentralized systems are common, the responsibility to coordinate and finance O&M activities ranging from $250 to $500 every three to five years falls on homeowners. However, with little to no instruction or oversight from state regulatory agencies, if O&M goes unaddressed, systems may fail, costing homeowners between $3,000 and $7,000.

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The Drinking Water portion of the report notes how important asset management programs have been in addressing concerns in that sector, and for Wastewater, robust asset management systems are at the first tenant to be listed for raising the grade. It says wastewater utilities must conduct continuous assessment of wastewater assets to create a plan of action that will address that aging infrastructure.

ASCE Infrastructure Report Card Co-Vice Chair Rebecca Shelton announced the wastewater and storm water scores during the association's live event March 3.
ASCE Infrastructure Report Card Co-Vice Chair Rebecca Shelton announced the wastewater and storm water scores during the association's live event March 3.

Storm Water Grade: D

2021 is the first year that storm water has been included in the ASCE Infrastructure Report Card. Below are some details shared by Storm Water Solutions, a supplement to Water & Wastes Digest, about what led to this score.

According to the Infrastructure Report Card website and storm water report, “with few dedicated funding sources, complicated governance and ownership structures, expansive networks of aging assets, increasingly stringent water quality regulations, and concerning climate change projections, the expected performance of storm water systems is declining.”

The other water categories include wastewater, which received a D+ and drinking water, which received a C-.  Rebecca Shelton, a report card committee member, said during the live announcement that while storm water utilities are on the rise –  more than 40 states have at least one – impervious surfaces in cities and suburbs are expanding, which is exacerbating flooding. Additionally, Shelton said nearly 600,000 miles of streams and rivers are considered impaired. 

When looking at storm water, wastewater and drinking water together, the report stated: “separately, an economic analysis by ASCE shows a water-related infrastructure investment gap of $434 billion over 10 years for drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater combined.”

Panelists for the Water: Partnerships That Work discuss the myriad ways all water is connected and how the industry can solve its energy, funding, financing, access, affordability and equity challenges.
Panelists for the Water: Partnerships That Work discuss the myriad ways all water is connected and how the industry can solve its energy, funding, financing, access, affordability and equity challenges.

Panel Discussion Overview - Water: Partnerships That Work

In the afternoon during the ASCE six-hour live event revealing the 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, Greg Diloreto, chair emeritus of the ASCE Infrastructure Report Card Committee, hosted a panel discussion on water partnerships. Water & Wastes Digest live-tweeted this panel and below are some highlights from it.

Panelists for this event were the newly appointed U.S. EPA Office Of Water Principal Deputy Administrator Radhika Fox. Fox was the former US Water Alliance CEO before being appointed by President Joe Bident to the EPA Office of Water. Also on the panel were Susan Moisio, global water director for Jacobs; Clarence Anthony, CEO and executive director for the National League of Cities; and Pam Elardo, deputy commissioner for the bureau of wastewater treatment for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

Anthony noted that local leaders have shouldered the burden for water and wastewater issues for too long, and now is the time for federal investment.

“"We can't do it alone as local leaders. Local leaders have been at the forefront of this during the pandemic." he said. "We need the federal government to recommit to funding local government."

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He said this investment will help to address the affordability issues leaders in the industry continue to see and hear about. On a similar note, Moisio hammered home on the term One Water, noting how framing water issues through that lens solves problems beyond infrastructure, notably access, affordability and equity. She stressed that using wastewater as a resource will become crucial for the future of U.S. infrastructure in the sector.

Elardo talked about how wastewater systems open the doors to new sustainability opportunities, specifically in terms of capturing and using biogas and in accepting food waste to be used for energy purposes.

“We create clean water,” she said. “We create a resource for our community.”

In the closing remarks for each panelist, Fox spoke about how this is a moment of convergence for the water industry.

"This is water's moment,” Fox said. “We are hitting a tipping point where we've got to make an investment in the next generation of infrastructure."

Read the full live tweet thread from WWD’s coverage here: https://twitter.com/WWDMag/status/1367201542303059970

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