posted on March 24, 2012 19:26
These aren't new words. In fact, it seems like everyone is coming out with a bigger estimate of the future cost of infrastructure every few weeks and because the numbers are so big, they all seem irrelevant for small systems. Not so. This new report by AWWA definately puts some perspective on the issue for small systems.
Buried No Longer
AWWA has released a report entitled "Buried No Longer: Confronting America's Water Infrastructure Challenge". Recently, there have been snippets on the news about $1 trillion dollars over the next 25 years and other details that certainly catch your eye. But I encourage you to take a look at the report. AWWA has set up a website for the report here, where you can download the report and read more of the AWWA perspective.
What It Says
The report is short and to the point. It's only 16 pages and a good portion of that is made up of pictures and figures. But the information provided is sobering. It points out in Figures 7 and 8 that the estimated costs per household for infrastructure replacement are about $100 annually for large systems, but $400-$800+ per household for small systems.
Small systems are a widespread concern. According to AWWA, 84.5% of all public water supplies serve less than 3,300 people. The main findings are that for most systems, water bills will have to go up. More importantly, the time is now to start planning for future upgrades. The report also looks at geographic area and how populations are changing (going up in the south and west, no so much in the Northeast and Midwest). This has implications for how your town might grow in the future.
The report lists the estimated service life for all of the major kinds of pipe. You can find that on page 8 in Figure 5. Basically, you have ductile iron and PVC on the low end of about 60 years, and cast iron on the high end of about 120 years. The take home message is this, "...most of our buried drinking water infrastructure was built 50 or more years ago..." (p.4) and "Because pipe assets last a long time, water systems that were built in the latter part of the 19th century and throughout the 20th century have, for the most part, never experienced the need for pipe replacement on a large scale." (p.14) How long has your pipe been in the ground?
What It Means
Most people living in your small community have never seen the pipes that bring them their water daily. They have no understanding of the costs of replacement, nor are they willing to pay more for their water today to plan for infrastructure replacement in the future. It's time to educate your customers and begin putting money in the bank today. Failure to do so may result in even higher costs in the future, or worse, create an unsolvable situation in your community that can only be dealt with by consolidation or reduction in service. The days of government bailout for systems that can't sustain themselves are coming to an end, so you need to ask yourself, how important is your way of life today and how important is it for the future.
Becoming sustainable requires planning and financial management. Is your system putting money in the bank for future infrastructure needs? Do your rates reflect the true costs of providing water? Is there "extra" in your rates for replacement costs? Do you review your financial situation and consider rate changes on a regular basis? Does your community have a long-term plan for the sustainability of its water (and wastewater) system? All of these answers should be "Yes". If they aren't, its time to get some help from your TA providers on what you can do to start down this path.