A report crossed my desk recently that got my attention because it contained disturbing, but important information which you should be aware of as concerned citizens. According to the American Water Works Association, repair and/or replacement costs for the nation’s rapidly aging underground sewer systems will total about $1 trillion...that’s a capital “T”... over the next twenty-five years. The report warns that to delay investment in sewer system upgrades will only exacerbate the problem and raise the specter of further degradation to existing water service, increase water service disruptions and cause escalating expenditures for emergency repairs.
I don’t mean to be an alarmist, just a realist when I suggest this report should serve as a wake-up call to us all that a huge water infrastructure bill is coming due which requires action, if we are to maintain water quality and the level of service our customers have come to expect and deserve.
The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments(SEMCOG), in its own report has estimated that the region’s share of the infrastructure repair/replacement bill will amount to somewhere between $14-$26 billion over the next quarter century to maintain and improve the region’s sewage collection and treatment systems, some 60%-70% of which were built prior to 1970, and even a few which were constructed at the dawn of the 20th Century, but are slowly losing their ability to function efficiently and cost effectively.
SEMCOG, in its research, also predicts more than five thousand miles of new sewers will be needed over the period in question to accommodate the needs of a growing population and economy.
The financial largesse, which flowed from Congress to fund infrastructure needs in the 1970’s-80’s, has largely dried up due to rising budget deficits and an out-of-control national debt.
The problem is largely ours to solve. The question is what kind of solution is achievable in an era when all units of government are being stressed to the max and forced to tighten their financial belts as they labor to do more with less. This may not be the time to discuss the nuts n’ bolts of infrastructure funding or how the costs might be apportioned. But now is the time to recognize the day of reckoning is near and that it might be propitious for local and regional leaders to open the lines of communication and start discussing the problem in realistic terms to determine what potential options might be available.
The reality is if we do nothing at all, then we risk a far larger infrastructure fix in the future as our sewer systems start to fail precipitously and costly water main breaks become the rule rather than the exception.Through regional cooperation, and with each municipality and/or local unit of government, paying its fair share to keep the water flowing, then no one entity is financially overburdened.
This not a problem that will go away simply by burying our heads in the sand. The bill for infrastructure repair/replacement is coming due whether or not we want to accept that inescapable truth. From my perspective, a pro-active approach where the problem is confronted head-on is preferable to standing idly by as costs continue to escalate exponentially and eventually bury us in a mountain of debt from which we may never escape.
The question is do we have the political will, vision and courage to do what needs to be done.....NOW!!