The U.S. infrastructure for the transmission, treating, storing and distribution of water requires drastic changes because of its increasing inability to sustain the new demands for potable water and water recycling. The majority of water treatment plants in the U.S. are suffering from old infrastructure technology, limited processing capacity and unpredictable weather. The overwhelming pressures on current water systems are forcing municipalities to acquire new technologies despite the funding shortages. Although the demand for infrastructure systems is undeniable, the lack of appropriate funding could undermine the ability of municipal governments to select the most technologically advanced alternatives.
Many U.S. water facilities have exceeded or are exceeding their lifetimes. Because of a lack of funding, resources are constrained, which impedes the installation of the most appropriate technology. However, the absence of any investment will impose an $11 billion annual shortfall for drinking water and a $13 billion annual shortfall in wastewater.
Additionally, $390 billion will be required for wastewater infrastructure systems and building new facilities in the next two decades. One program currently in place by the federal government is the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) with $2 billion allocated for drinking water and $4 billion allocated for wastewater.
Municipal governments are encouraging private investment and promoting monetary incentives to raise funds for the necessary projects. The driving factors of this initiative include new pressure from the federal government to improve water quality and safety, the increasing water supply costs because of depleted source water, a decline in the quality of raw-water, and the need to replace water distribution and wastewater collection systems for the first time. Municipal governments are also considering the population growth that is overloading current facilities in need of technology upgrades.
In addition, some municipalities have developed water conservation initiatives that include setting irrigation days and creating tax and incentive programs related to environmental and residential appliance upgrades. By 2025, the U.S. is projected to have medium-to-high water stress, which is a measurement of the proportion of water withdrawal rate to the total renewable resources. This will be a challenge for water reuse management technologies that will play an important role in the future as U.S. water shortages worsen.
For example, in the Midwestern U.S., aging sewers often overflow after recurring storms. Over time, this problem will impact the drinking water supply and ultimately the region’s public health. Similarly, dam infrastructure—including structural dams and non-structural runoff water management dams—suffers from flooding because of melting snow from the north. Significant upgrades are required to protect the fresh water supply and the general ecosystem from carried-down pollutants. Other states struggle with the opposite problem—water scarcity. States such as Arizona, California, Florida and Texas suffer from depleted water supplies, which are needed continued population growth, industrial manufacturing and agriculture. As many cities in these states are growing rapidly, the states must develop larger capacity to maintain the water supply demand.
The Environmental & Financial Requirements
According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clear Water Needs Analysis (2004), the wastewater treatment systems in the U.S. require $69.1 billion in investment or 34.1 percent of the required total investment. Water collection and conveyance requires $65.3 billion or 32.2 percent. Combined sewer and overflow correction will need $54.8 billion or 27.1 percent. Stormwater management programs require $9 billion or 4.4 percent, and recycled water distribution is $4.3 billion or 2.1 percent.
The states with the largest capital costs for infrastructure—such as replacement, upgrade, expansion and maintenance—are New York, Illinois, California and Ohio. The states with the largest need for municipal programs for the compliance requirements of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System and Clean Water Act initiatives are Texas, Florida and Arizona. California and Florida have the largest need to implement irrigation systems.
As a result, municipal governments want to adopt emerging technologies that meet strict environmental requirements, have retrofit capabilities and occupy significantly less square footage than traditional systems. When evaluating new water infrastructure technology, the main challenge for municipalities is the cost versus the effectiveness of a new technology or process. First and foremost, the systems must prove to be economical on a life-cycle basis or at least more economical than conventional water processing systems. Second, the system’s price needs to align with the allocated funding, and last, the infrastructure system supply must match the demand for the application. Simply put, new infrastructure systems must provide innovative technological solutions at an economical price.