Crumbling Water Infrastructure Needs a Surge of Investment

Water pipes and treatment systems in the U.S. are in a sorry state, but nearly two-thirds of voters and just over half of businesses would be willing to pay more for their water to ensure its quality and availability, according to a new study by the ITT Corporation.

ITT surveyed about 1,000 voters and 500 facilities and operations managers at industrial and agricultural businesses in the U.S. this past summer to see what Americans think should be done about the problem with water infrastructure and who they believe should pay for it. The firm released its report on the results of its "Value of Water Survey: Americans on the U.S. Water Crisis" today.

ITT is a high-tech engineering and manufacturing firm whose business focuses on water and fluids management, global defense and security, and motion and flow control.

"Hidden underground, the deterioration of our nation's water pipes and treatment systems has gone largely unnoticed," said the report, echoing findings of "Infrastructure 2010: Investment Imperative," a major study released earlier this year by the Urban Land Institute and Ernst & Young about the consequences of ignoring water risks in the U.S.

"In an era of water scarcity and tight budgets, we can no longer afford to lose nearly two trillion gallons of clean water, at an annual cost of $2.6 billion, to broken and leaking pipes every year," the ITT report said.

Citing figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the report said that at the current rate of investment, the funding gap for water infrastructure could grow to as much as $224 billion by 2022.

The survey findings include:

  • 63 percent of voters and 57 percent of businesses would be willing to pay a little more in their monthly utility bills to pay for infrastructure upgrades that would "ensure long-term access to clean water."
  • Voters said they were willing to spend an average of 11 percent more on their monthly water bill -- about $6.20 more per month -- and businesses would be willing to pay 7 percent more.
  • If the voters were taken on their word, the U.S. could invest about $5.4 billion more per year in the country's water infrastructure -- an amount that is more than four times the federal investment in drinking water systems in 2009.
  • 95 percent of American voters value water over any other service they receive, including heat and electricity. For businesses, water came in second place at 86 percent. Electricity, cited by 88 percent, was the most valued service for firms.
  • 59 percent of voters and 57 percent of businesses said they believe people are wasting too much water. In contrast, 31 percent of voters and 29 percent of businesses said they believe businesses are wasting too much water.
  • 69 percent of voters and 72 percent of businesses conceded they take clean water for granted.
  • 80 percent of voters and 84 percent of businesses said they believe the water infrastructure system in the U.S. needs reform.

The study can be downloaded free or viewed in an interactive format at

It's the second recent report on risks posed to and by water systems in the U.S. A study released October 21 by Ceres and Water Asset Management LLC looked at how water scarcity influences risk exposure in the municipal bond market for utilities.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user joshme17.