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U.S. not immune to water challenges

Julia Pyper, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, March 23, 2012

Water access and sustainability are challenges not only for developing nations, but for the United States, too, as its leaders struggle to upgrade the nation's aging water system.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton touched on the United States' water-related vulnerabilities yesterday at the launch of a new U.S. Water Partnership to expand U.S. leadership in water-stressed regions.

"We've had increasing problems meeting our own needs in the desert Southwest or managing floods in the East," she said. "No country anywhere, no matter how developed, is immune to the challenges that we face."

Members of Congress, water directors, advocacy groups and more than 30 mayors marked this year's World Water Day yesterday by demanding greater investments in the nation's public water systems. In "Public Water Works!" -- a new report by Corporate Accountability International -- the group reported that U.S. public water systems are up against a $23 billion-per-year investment gap.

Unlike in many regions of the world, the vast majority of U.S. households have complete access to water. But just as in all places, water is central to the country's public health and economic development.

"The public is thirsty for priority investment in the nation's public water systems and won't be satiated by short-term promises that fail to benefit the community as a whole. The need is now and the commitment is one we can no longer kick down the road," said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) in a
statement. "This World Water Day our nation's leaders have the opportunity to dedicate the public support required to the public service we cannot do without."

Norton is among a group of more than 35 congressional members to have signed onto a "Dear Colleague"  letter calling for the House and Senate to immediately boost their commitment to the nation's water supply.

75 percent drop in spending since the '70s

According to the Corporate Accountability International report, the federal government's share of spending on domestic water systems fell from 75 percent in the 1970s to 10 percent in the 1990s. A poll by Lake Research Partners found that today, 73 percent of people in the United States believe government investment in safe public water systems is either extremely or very important.

The call for greater federal investment comes as the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is looking for private dollars to help mend the nation's plumbing system (E&E Daily, March 22).

Without greater investments in the public water system, there are likely to be more water main breaks and flood damage, said Alan Heymann, chief of external affairs at the D.C. Water and Sewage Authority. A crumbling water system will prevent people from working and cost businesses billions of dollars in lost sales. The cost to society will greatly eclipse the cost of repairs if more isn't done, said Heymann.

"I don't think you'll have a large-scale public health or water accessibility crisis across the country, so you can't compare us to a developing country," he said. "But it's going to start resulting in more problems than we have today."

There are two main water issues in the United States, the first of which is water quality, said Glenn Prickett, chief external affairs officer with the Nature Conservancy, which has already signed onto the State Department's new partnership group. Agriculture uses about 70 percent of fresh water in America, and farmers are still learning how to reduce their chemical and nutrient pollution, he said.

The second problem is water quantity, which is becoming particularly urgent, since modeling studies show climate change will further decrease water availability in the Southwest, where there's also rapid population growth, said Prickett.

"We have some unfinished water business here in the U.S. even as we think about how to help other countries deal with water issues around the world," he said.

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500


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Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500.

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