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Water: Sustainable Infrastructure

The Facts About Sustainable Water Infrastructure

To understand the challenge, it is important to know what constitutes water infrastructure, as well as the state of that infrastructure in the U.S. and in your community. These infrastructure systems are not only an essential asset for today, but are vital to the health and development of future communities.

What components make up a community's water infrastructure?

A community's water infrastructure includes all the man-made and natural features through which we move and treat water. While holistically it is all part of the same system, it is often convenient to think about infrastructure in terms of drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater.

The elements and scale of these systems vary with each community. Understanding what comprises your community's system is the first step in ensuring that your systems are managed for sustainability. 

 Infrastructure

 Can Include:

 Drinking Water

  • Lands in source water areas
  • Reservoirs and storage
  • Treatment plants
  • Distribution systems

 Wastewater

  • Collection systems and pipes
  • Pump stations
  • Treatment plants
  • Septic systems

 Stormwater

  • Collection basins
  • Stormwater pipes
  • Green infrastructure approaches that infiltrate and manage water where it falls
  • Land management practices that keep runoff from adversely impacting surface water or ground water
 

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What can be said generally about the age of the nation's water infrastructure?

Water Plant

Much of the country's water infrastructure was built in the period following World War II or earlier, although the age of infrastructure will vary with the age of your community.

The Clean Water Act spurred the construction of wastewater treatment plants beginning in the 1970s, and so many of those plants are now 30 years old or older.

With regard to piping systems, the 2000 Community Water System Survey found that for drinking water systems that serve more than 100,000 people, about 30 percent of the pipes were between 40 and 80 years old and about 10 percent of the pipes were more than 80 years old. The American Water Works Association also provides data on our aging systems in their report Dawn of the Replacement Era-Reinvesting in Drinking Water Infrastructure (PDF) (49 pp, 932 KB, About PDF)Exit EPA Disclaimer .

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What is the useful life of water infrastructure?

The life span of the assets that make up our systems can vary greatly. For example, treatment plants typically have a useful life of 20-50 years before they require an extensive rehabilitation or replacement. Pipes have life cycles that can range from 15 to over 100 years depending on the type of material and the environment, making the age of pipe only a high-level indicator of the need for rehabilitation or replacement. That is why it is important to have a program to evaluate the actual condition of infrastructure—to ensure that investments are made where they are most needed.

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What is the Water Infrastructure Gap in the U.S.?

In 2002, the U.S. EPA released the Clean Water and Drinking Water Gap Analysis Report. This report compared estimates of what the country needs in drinking water and wastewater infrastructure to the available revenues of the country's utilities. The result was a projected gap in funding of over $500 billion over the next 20 years. These estimates are considered conservative in that they do not include consideration of factors such as population growth or impacts of climate change. So, as a nation, our infrastructure needs are great and individual communities will continue to face significant challenges in meeting them.

More information on the EPA Infrastructure Gap Study:

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