By Dave Rutz
The recent citywide water crisis in Flint, MI has aimed a spotlight on the nation’s outdated and declining drinking water infrastructure. The city’s water, tapped from the Flint River, wasn’t treated properly. Lead from aging municipal service lines seeped into the city’s municipal water supply and wasn’t filtered out before area residents consumed it. With limited financial resources to support replacements and repairs to water infrastructure, smaller communities throughout the US are at similar risk, potentially exposing an estimated 18 million Americans to contaminated drinking water.
At a projected cost of $384 billion (USD) to update the nation’s aging drinking water structure over the next 20 years, the task seems daunting. The recent passage of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act is a positive step toward ensuring clean, safe drinking water for cities across the country. It also signifies that Congress recognizes the crucial role wells and water systems play in providing affordable, quality drinking water.
The WIIN Act was signed into law on December 16, 2016, just one week after Congress passed the legislation. The goal is to reduce the federal, state and local costs of providing high-quality drinking water to millions of Americans who live in rural communities by facilitating the use of cost-effective alternatives like water well systems. The law authorizes nationwide water projects to restore watersheds and improve water infrastructure and flood control. It also approves the allocation of $170 million for communities facing drinking water emergencies, including funding for Flint to recover from the lead contamination in its drinking water system. Over the next several years, the law will incentivize communities to invest in a number of water projects to promote storage and supply, flood control, desalination and recycling.
The WIIN Act also includes provisions of the Water Supply Cost Savings Act, bipartisan legislation designed to promote awareness and assistance related to well water systems for rural communities. The legislation originally grew out of Water Systems Council (WSC) efforts to provide wells as a cost-effective drinking water solution to a limited number of families and communities in need. The council works to improve the water well industry through the discussion of market issues, industry education, regulations and more.
Benefits of installing water wells
Many communities are unaware of the benefits of installing water wells that go beyond ensuring safe drinking water. For instance, well systems can provide clean water at a much lower cost than traditional municipal systems. According to Steve Anderson, President of WSC, small and rural communities can realize up to a 75-percent cost savings by using water wells versus municipal pipeline systems.
The WIIN Act requires that the US Department of Agriculture and US EPA create a drinking-water technical clearinghouse to provide resources on cost-effective, alternative drinking water systems. It is important for all communities to consider this document when deciding how best to update their water infrastructure. It also provides assistance for small and disadvantaged communities with fewer than 10,000 residents to fully replace drinking water, wastewater and/or public water infrastructure that is in violation of the federal Clean Water Act. Communities can receive grants that cover the full replacement of lead-line systems. Those seeking federal assistance for drinking water infrastructure will be required to complete a self-certification process to ensure well systems have been assessed as a viable alternative.
New job creation
Not only is the WIIN Act a major step in strengthening America’s water infrastructure and protecting vital water resources, it also promotes economic growth and competitiveness. Improving the nation’s existing water infrastructure is expected to bring the public and private sectors together to deliver critical water projects across the country, spurring job growth and technology improvement. According to the American Water Works Association, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) at the US Department of Commerce estimates that for every dollar spent on water infrastructure, $2.63 is generated in the private economy. And for every job added in the water workforce, the BEA estimates that 3.68 jobs are added to the national economy.
The innovative solutions being developed to give communities access to clean water for domestic and industrial use will create jobs in every segment of the water industry, including technical experts needed to develop and improve water technology, manufacturing jobs to produce equipment like well pumps and accessories, and field workers needed to repair, replace and expand new and existing drinking water distribution systems over the next two decades.
About the author
Dave Rutz is Director of North American Sales–Residential and Agriculture, Xylem. He has worked in Xylem’s Applied Water Systems business unit for five years and has extensive experience in residential, industrial and agricultural pumps. Rutz holds a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
About the company
As a member of the WSC and an active supporter of the WIIN Act, Xylem looks forward to assisting in the implementation of the Water Supply Cost Savings Act provisions and making clean and safe drinking water available to everyone at an affordable cost.