Water: it’s the one resource we cannot live without, yet 884 million people, mostly in developing countries, lack access to safe drinking water. These people have experienced firsthand the harsh realities of the global water crisis. Yet many regions of the developed world, including numerous states within the United States, are yet to be exposed to this truly global shortage and still take access to clean water for granted.
However, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, in as soon as three years, U.S. residents living in all but 14 states will be faced with water shortages and within the next 15 years, two thirds of the world’s population will live in areas facing moderate to severe water stress.
While many may think the solution lies largely in water conservation, it is important to recognize that efficient water use depends on working, modern infrastructure. In the developing world, there is a need to build this necessary infrastructure to enable water distribution and wastewater treatment. And in the developed world, and in particular, in the United States, there is a significant need to fix or replace our crumbling and aging water infrastructure. We have no excuse for avoiding this urgent matter.
In the United States alone, 650 water mains break every day or one every two minutes. By one U.S. Geological Survey estimate, water lost from water distribution systems is 1.7 trillion gallons per year at a national cost of $2.6 billion per year. These statistics demonstrate the need for significant investments in the infrastructure needed to treat, move and conserve clean water in developed countries. Countries around the world—China, Russia, and those in Europe—have already increased investments and the United States needs to do the same.
The good news is that American voters and businesses alike seem to agree that fixing our water infrastructure is a priority. The ITT Value of Water Survey, a nationwide poll on the value of water released this week, details what U.S. voters and industrial and agricultural businesses think should be done about the U.S. water infrastructure crisis, and found that more than eight of ten registered voters say government should increase investment in upgrading our water pipes and systems.
The vast majority of voters (85 percent) and businesses (83 percent) say that federal, state and local governments should invest money in upgrading our water pipes and systems. And they are willing to do their part: close to two-thirds of American voters are willing to pay more each month to upgrade our water systems and ensure long-term access to clean water.
Solving nationwide and global water issues must be a shared responsibility. Government is in a unique position to raise awareness of this use and must ensure that any debate on national infrastructure includes water treatment and distribution systems. Local, state and Federal governments must develop policies that are environmentally effective, economically sustainable, promote fair water pricing, conservation and help educate the public.
The private sector must also raise awareness of the issue, and reduce its own consumption. Companies need to seek ways to conserve water and partner with other companies and government to define and meet standards for responsible water use. In attempt to do so, ITT has partnered with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development to help create the Global Water Tool for companies and organizations to map their water use and assess risks relative to their global operations and supply chains.
And as citizens, we must understand that a steady supply of clean drinking water comes at price and be willing to pay it now and in the future. The public can also help advocate and support policies that will help protect our access to clean water.
All parties must begin to recognize the true value of water and work together to ensure safe and reliable access for years to come. We must not forget that that global water crisis is truly global as regions of both the developing world and, increasingly, the developed world are faced with the harsh effects. Now is the time to act.
Bjorn Von Euler is director of corporate philanthropy for ITT Corp.