By Rep. Donna F. Edwards
Member, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

From our aging water and sewer systems, to our old-world power grid, to our crumbling roads, bridges, and transit systems, our nation’s infrastructure is falling apart.  Infrastructure investment must be a top priority in the 111th Congress for jobs and our economy.  

Local infrastructure failures highlight the need for such investments.  A 48-inch water main break in Derwood, Maryland, and another in Largo, led to numerous business closings and boil-water advisories that affected thousands of residents.  And most notably, a massive, 66-inch water main break on December 23, 2008, in Bethesda, Maryland, made national headlines. Recently, a water main broke directly in front of my home; water gurgled from the street leaving water service disrupted in the middle of the night as workers drilled in the freezing night air.  In 2007 alone, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission reported 2,129 water main breaks and leaks in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties.

Similar scenarios are playing out across the country with increasing frequency, underscoring the critical need for significant investment in our water infrastructure.  In December 2008, a 12-inch water main break in Ashland, West Virginia, caused school closings; a San Diego water main break caused the loss of 38 million gallons of water; and cities such as Indianapolis are dealing with sewer systems with 100-year-old pipes.  Our water and sewer systems are antiquated and lack the sophistication and capacity to support our growing population while keeping pollutants out of our drinking water and natural waterways.  If we are serious about economic development, protecting the environment, including the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, we must invest in and improve this critical component of our nation’s infrastructure.

With the country facing difficult economic times, federal funding for water infrastructure projects will boost state economies and provide unemployment relief for many residents in every community; in Maryland, addressing ready to go wastewater infrastructure needs would create over 15,000 new jobs.  The same is true throughout the country -- the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that for every $1 billion spent on water infrastructure improvements, nearly 28,000 new jobs will be created.  These new jobs are essential in our commitment to boosting the U.S. economy.

Clean and safe drinking water must be seen as a national priority and should not be valued any less than other natural resources.  If we are to make the kind of commitment to our environment, our health, and our economy, water infrastructure projects cannot be expected to be met by local resources alone; we must make this a federal priority.  Because federal funding for water infrastructure has declined 70 percent over the last two decades, a low-end estimate by the EPA indicates that $580 billion will be required over the next two decades to meet drinking water and wastewater utility needs.

We have a real opportunity to provide the type of funding necessary to renovate water infrastructure in Maryland and across the country, while creating thousands of good-paying jobs.  In every state, unfunded projects are sitting on shelves waiting for the green light, while workers wait to begin work immediately.  With states facing untold budget shortfalls, federal help for these projects makes sense and cannot come soon enough.