Putting a Price on the Value of Water

Last month, nearly 200,000 people were evacuated from their homes and businesses when the spillway of the largest dam in the US was compromised. Earlier this month, nearly 40,000 water customers in Jackson, Mississippi were without or with minimal water service for a weekend due to planned repairs to a water main. It isn’t until we are without it that the value of water becomes clear. We’re seeing this play out as global water stocks are up 15% over the past year as more money is being spent protecting scarce water resources.

The Value of Water Campaign works to educate and inspire the nation on the value of water and the need to invest in water infrastructure. It’s in our name. It’s in our mission. But how do we define the value of water?

In the US, a day without water is hard to imagine. But we are vulnerable to it on a daily basis—from erosion of dam spillways, to water main breaks, to water quality challenges and sink holes from broken sewer lines. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2017 Infrastructure Report Card grades America’s water and wastewater systems a D and D+, respectively. Based on data from ASCE’s Failure to Act: Closing the Infrastructure Investment Gap for America’s Economic Future report, the US has a national investment gap of $82 billion per year to bring our water and wastewater systems to a state of good repair. The longer investments are delayed, the more vulnerable our water systems are to failure.

Last week—on World Water Day—the Value of Water Campaign released a new study, The Economic Benefits of Investing in Water Infrastructure, which quantifies the economic value of water. Beyond the intrinsic value of water and wastewater service to public and environmental health, reliable water and wastewater systems support jobs and stimulate economic activity.

Closing the investment gap for water and wastewater infrastructure could generate over $220 billion in annual economic activity and 1.3 million jobs. And reliable, centralized water and wastewater service makes businesses more competitive and productive, saving our economy $94 billion annually.

What is the cost when we don’t make these investments? A day without water has an obvious impact on daily life and public health, but what is the economic cost when things break? One day of disruption to water service does more than close businesses, it puts $43.5 billion in sales at risk. Impacts due to water service disruptions don’t just effect hotels, breweries, or restaurants. Impacts are spread across many sectors—from junior colleges to airplane part manufacturing. Beyond individual businesses, an eight-day national disruption in water service would amount to a 1 percent loss in annual GDP, greater than the recessions of 1974 and 2008.

The findings of the report demonstrate the true value of water and how much we have to lose if we do not close the water and wastewater infrastructure investment gap. Now more than ever is the time to build. The benefits of investing in water infrastructure—and the costs if we don’t—transcend all levels of government, political parties, and all private sector industries. By coming together—public and private sector; local, state, and federal levels—and reinvesting in America’s essential critical water and wastewater infrastructure, we can create jobs, strengthen the economy, and protect American competitiveness.

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