‘Value of Water’ Index Reveals Momentum to Address US Water Infrastructure Issues
We find ourselves in a critical moment in time to shine a spotlight on our water infrastructure challenges and the collective actions we must take to protect our future access to clean potable water. The recent devastation from Hurricane Sandy has shown that US infrastructure issues need to be addressed in a fundamental and decisive way. In the wake of the recent elections, with a second administration for the president and a new Congress on the way, there may be no better time than now to move beyond discussion to action.
The American public seems to be receptive to the idea. As part of Xylem’s ongoing commitment to addressing the world’s most challenging water issues, we conducted the 2012 Value of Water Index, a nationwide poll detailing what US voters think should be done about the country’s water infrastructure and who should pay for it.
The Index revealed that more than three-quarters of Americans are concerned about the state of the nation’s water infrastructure system, and a significant majority of Americans (88 percent) believe US water infrastructure needs reform. Most say they would be willing to pay more each month to ensure that today’s problems are fixed so that clean water keeps flowing.
Yet despite the fact that Americans are concerned about the state of the country’s water infrastructure, there seems to be an important disconnect. Americans are largely unaware of their own “water footprint” or the extent to which water infrastructure problems would impact them personally. More than half of Americans believe they use 50 gallons of water or less daily when the true total is actually closer to twice that amount. Additionally, only 29 percent of Americans believe that water infrastructure problems would affect them “a great deal.”
While these findings indicate a growing public awareness of the urgent need to solve water, they also demonstrate that much more work needs to be done to educate Americans about the economics of water and the fundamental role that water and water infrastructure play in our lives and in the health of the economy. The good news is that people understand that fixing our nation’s water infrastructure problems is a shared responsibility between business, government and citizens.
In order to encourage action, it is time for businesses with expertise in the water sector to join forces and raise public awareness of our water infrastructure challenges and needs. If we can focus attention on the vital issues around water, we can build consensus and make this a national priority.
It will be critical to help all Americans understand that a steady supply of clean drinking water comes at a price; we must truly value water to generate support for increased investment, which will, in turn, spur innovation. This is vital because it will allow for the development of more effective and efficient technologies and solutions. Innovation brings more competition, and with competition we will ultimately see lower operating costs.
Our water infrastructure reform depends on more than the water industry. Nearly 90 percent of Americans hold all levels of government accountable for fixing and maintaining our water infrastructure. Governments must maintain and modernize water infrastructure, and enact economically viable water policies which would include incentives for conservation and adequate water pricing to enable reinvestment.
Finally, Americans recognize that they also have an important personal role to play and are willing to pay for upgrades to the water system. Despite recent water rate increases, six in ten Americans (61 percent) are willing to pay more money to underwrite infrastructure improvements.
Ultimately, we must take advantage of this critical moment in time and take collective action to focus more attention on our water and infrastructure challenges. It is going to take time, and it is going to take money to drive and to implement change. But the cost of doing nothing, of continuing in the current “break and fix” pattern, will be even higher in the long run. We have the ability to show the country the true value of water, and the value of investing to preserve and to protect it—now and for future generations.
Gretchen McClain is president and CEO of Xylem Inc.
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