Investment in Water Infrastructure is Essential for Economic Recovery, ASCE Report Says

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Trey Shanks

Environmental Scientist

Has the phrase “wash your hands” ever carried more significance than it has this year? Despite all the attention, we still need to remind people that water for handwashing, drinking, agriculture and industry doesn’t just show up. It requires an intricate system of pipes, pump stations, treatment plants, storage facilities and other infrastructure, along with people to keep it all operating.

An important new report makes the case that the U.S. isn’t investing enough in our drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems — and that continuing to underfund them will cost us billions of dollars, for households, businesses and the overall U.S. economy.

But there’s a solution. In a nutshell: If we adequately fund the replacements, upgrades and expansions of the nation’s aging water systems need, we can create hundreds of thousands of jobs, significantly boost economic growth, protect public health and improve the quality of life for families across the country.

The U.S. needs to put $109 billion per year in water infrastructure over the next 20 years (in 2019 dollars) to close the gap between what’s currently being spent and what we actually need, the report says. Closing that investment gap would create 800,000 new jobs, increase disposable income by more than $2,000 per household and help the U.S. GDP grow by $4.5 trillion in 20 years.

The report, “The Economic Benefits of Investing in Water Infrastructure: How a Failure to Act Would Affect the U.S. Economic Recovery,” was produced by the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Value of Water Campaign.

The findings include:

  • In 2019, total capital spending on water infrastructure at the local, state, and federal levels was approximately $48 billion, while investment needs totaled $129 billion.
  • In many communities, drinking water and wastewater systems are decades old and deteriorating: A water main breaks somewhere in the U.S. on average every two minutes, about 250,000-300,000 breaks a year.
  • At the current rate of infrastructure investment, industries that rely on water — such as paint production, fuels, paperboard mills, wineries, health services, construction and poultry — could feel a $250 billion hit from disruptions by 2039.
  • Most of the nation’s water infrastructure was not designed for a changing climate and needs to be made resilient against impacts including sea-level rise, salt-water intrusion, flooding, drought and wildfires.
  • The federal government’s share of capital investment in water infrastructure had fallen to 4% in 2017, but with upheaval from the coronavirus pandemic, state and local governments face even more financial constraints, not just for capital investment but also operation and maintenance.

Water is essential to life, and so are safe, reliable water systems.

To see how Freese and Nichols can help you with your water system needs or funding questions, please contact Funding Specialist Mark Evans,, 512-596-3670, or Financial Services Director Richard Campbell,, 940-220-4356, or ask your project manager.

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Trey Shanks, CFM, IAM, leads Freese and Nichols’ Asset Management services. He is a Principal in our Fort Worth office.