Imagine a Day Without Water and Discover the Value of Water

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David Jackson

Water and Wastewater Treatment Engineer

By David Jackson, Freese and Nichols Vice President/Principal and President of the Water Environment Association of Texas, and Julie Nahrgang, Executive Director of the Water Environment Association of Texas

These days, the need for safe, clean water seems to always be a news topic. At home in Texas, we have experienced the extremes of severe drought, which highlighted the criticality and sensitivity of available water supplies, and historic floods which further emphasized the need for improved reliability in our water and stormwater infrastructure. In the national news we hear of ongoing droughts and water supply issues in California, and the cautionary tales of safe drinking water supply issues in Flint, Michigan. At the center of these challenges are the water infrastructure needs of our communities. Our infrastructure is needed to supply, purify and distribute safe drinking water. Infrastructure also collects our wastewaters and treats those wastes to recover this precious resource and return it safely to our environment for future uses. News stories on the needs of our communities to meet growing water demands and to renew aging water and wastewater infrastructure are more and more common. Not commonly discussed is the growing need for experienced operations professionals to help our cities with their operational needs to produce and deliver clean water and collect and re-clean the wastes. We tend to think of water as out-of-site, out-of-mind. Until, of course, there is a problem. Likewise, we tend to undervalue those operations and maintenance professionals involved in the safe delivery of these water needs.

The Value of Water Coalition is a partnership of public and private water agencies, business and community leaders, and national organizations united in communicating the importance of water to the economic, environmental, and social well-being of America. The Water Environment Association of Texas is a Member Association of the Water Environment Federation, which is a participant in the Value of Water Coalition.

Many people take water and wastewater service for granted. Clean, safe, reliable, and affordable water comes out of the tap and flows down the drain without a second thought. But the massive infrastructure, much of it underground, which brings water to homes and businesses, takes it away, and treats it, is aging and needs are mounting.

This September 15th is the official date for “Imagine a Day Without Water.” The Imagine a Day Without Water event was envisioned by the Coalition to help raise the awareness of the importance of protecting our most precious resource, water. On this day, organizations, elected officials, corporations, environmental advocates, from across the country are joining together to educate people about how water is essential, the challenges facing water and wastewater systems, and the need for investment.

Water — it’s the thread that weaves together our daily lives. It keeps our communities healthy, our cities running, and our economies growing. Could you go a day without water? Imagine it, no water to drink or make coffee. No water to shower, brush your teeth, flush the toilet, cook, or do laundry. Firefighters couldn’t put out fires and farmers couldn’t water their crops. The high quality of life we enjoy in America would not be possible without clean water and the infrastructure that fuels it. What are we willing to pay for this essential service? The average monthly water and wastewater bill in Texas for a typical residence is approximately $60.

How does this compare to other utility services that we receive? The average monthly cell phone bill for the typical family is approximately $146; the average monthly cable TV bill is $123; and the average monthly internet bill is $47. Could you go a day without your cell phone, a day without cable TV, or a day without the Internet? It wasn’t that long ago that none of us had these luxuries. Are these combined communications services three times as valuable as your water and wastewater services? Why do we line up to increase our cell phone bill when the latest phone is released but contest necessary increases in our water and wastewater bills?

One of the crowning achievements of the 20th century was building reliable water and wastewater systems. Since then, public and private utilities across the country have been putting people to work to construct, operate, and maintain the water and wastewater infrastructure that Americans rely on daily. After working around the clock for more than 100 years, this infrastructure is aging and in need of renewal. In addition to this need, changes in our climate will require that utilities invest in the development of new and sustainable supplies of water.

Improvements to our water infrastructure are credited by many as the largest contributing factor to our increased life expectancy. Unfortunately, safe drinking water is not universally available. Globally 750 million people do not have access to safe water and 840,000 people die each year from water-borne diseases. We have benefited from the water infrastructure investments made by those that have gone before us. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to make the investments necessary to safeguard our water for the future and to protect our environment for generations to come. Water is worth it! Can you imagine a future without safe water? If you can’t, try going just a day without water this September 15th.

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David Jackson, PE, BCEE, is Water and Wastewater Treatment Group Manager in Dallas.