Report urges adding water systems to U.S. infrastructure challenges

July 2010 Vol. 65 No. 7

More urban areas throughout the United States are facing growing pressures on their water infrastructure systems, necessitating both greater investments for overhaul and a change in development patterns that are more conducive to conservation, according to Infrastructure 2010: An Investment Imperative, a new publication released by the Urban Land Institute and Ernst & Young.

The report cautions notes that most water districts do not charge ratepayers full outlays for constructing and maintaining their water systems. As a result, businesses and residents are less efficient when it comes to conservation, which could result in water demand outstripping future availability. The report shows that the U.S. has the highest “water footprint” in the world, using nearly 656,000 gallons per capita annually, greatly outstripping far more populous China, which uses less than 186,000 gallons per capita annually.

The integration of more concentrated land development into water management can reduce runoff and combat waste, states the report. One example: the runoff from eight homes on eight acres totals 149,600 cubic feet per year, while the runoff from eight homes on one acre totals 39,600 cubic feet per year, with the denser development saving both water and land.

The report shows a troubling trend of the world moving ahead in rebuilding and expanding its infrastructure without the United States. Howard Roth, Global Real Estate Leader, Ernst and Young concludes that this situation creates not only a threat to quality of life now and for the future, but also its very basic ability to compete economically with the rest of the world.

Infrastructure 2010 is the fourth of an annual overview series that analyzes the infrastructure needs and compares the infrastructure policies of the United States with other countries. Previous editions focused primarily on transportation systems, consistently finding that the U.S. continues to lag behind Asia and Europe in investments in transit systems, making its urban areas less competitive globally. This year, in addition to a transportation update, the report includes a look at water infrastructure – accessibility and availability, treatment and delivery – and highlights water issues in 14 U.S. cities as illustrative of the problems looming throughout much of urban America.

The report cites four main water challenges, each of which, along with stricter conservation efforts, could be alleviated by less sprawl and more compact development to help ease the strain on existing systems. They are old pipes; high growth constraining; contamination threats; and failure to conserve.