How Investing in Water Infrastructure Could Grow Green Jobs

How Investing in Water Infrastructure Could Grow Green Jobs

Image CC licensed by Flickr user eutrophication&hypoxia

The push for green jobs has always focused on its dual benefits: Helping the environment while also digging the country out of its economic rut. Today, that argument got a fresh spin, with a new report that says a major infusion of cash could create jobs and shore up our crumbling water infrastructure.

It's going take north of $188 billion to properly manage stormwater in the U.S. and preserve water quality, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That scale of investment may potentially create nearly 1.9 million jobs over the next five years, which could mean that 1 in 7 unemployed residents could go back to work.

"Those are good quality jobs," said Jeremy Hays, chief strategist for state and local initiatives at the nonprofit Green For All and co-author of the report, "Water Works: Rebuilding Infrastructure, Creating Jobs, Greening the Environment." "They're accessible to many Americans and they're direly needed right now in this country."

report coverSpecifically, the report focuses on the sustainable aspects of water management as key areas for investment, which may include green roofs, urban tree planting, rain gardens, constructed wetlands, rainwater harvesting, greenways, permeable pavements and bioswales. As a whole, the nation's water infrastructure, along with the unemployment pitcure, must each contend with its own sobering set of facts.

The EPA estimates that by 2020, roughly 45 percent of the nation's water pipelines will be of poor quality or worse. We publicly invest about a third less in water infrastructure today than we did in the mid-1970s, in terms its share of the economy. Nearly half of the country's lakes are too polluted for fishing, swimming or to support aquatic life. Meanwhile, the recession has produced a job shortfall of more than 11 million positions needed to keep up with population growth. The national unemployment rate currently tops 9 percent.

But the report offers some shimmer of hope. While investment at the federal level is lagging, cities are moving forward with their own investment plans. Chicago, for example, is at the forefront of stormwater mitigation, while Philadelphia plans to invest $1.6 billion in its water infrastructure over the next two decades.

The report argues now is the time to make this significant investment in green water infrastructure because the cost of financing is historically low and the recession has driven down project costs. But in this political climate and era of economic austerity, it's unfortunate that some may find this scale of investment to be a tough sell.

The report, from Green For All, in partnership with American Rivers, Pacific Institute, and the Economic Policy Institute, is available for download from GreenBiz.com.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user eutrophication&hypoxia.