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Sustainable Water Infrastructure for the 21st Century
Clean and safe water is critical for human and ecosystem health. Our nation's livelihood depends, in large part, on the quality of our water - for drinking, swimming, recreation, economic uses, and other benefits of healthy ecosystems. Over the past 20 years communities have spent more than $1 trillion (in 2001 dollars) on drinking water treatment and supply and wastewater treatment and disposal. However, the infrastructure that provides us with drinking water and treats our waste water is aging. Much of it was constructed in the period following World War II and will be reaching the end of its useful life in the next 20-40 years. As a nation, we will be challenged to ensure that we can keep pace with the infrastructure needs of the future. Utilities and their local communities must provide the primary sources of funding to meet those needs. While federal and state funding can help water utilities meet future needs, other strategies may be appropriate for addressing the challenges we face in maintaining our nation's water infrastructure.
In January 2003, the Administrator of EPA convened a Forum - Closing the Gap: Innovative Responses for Sustainable Water Infrastructure. At this Forum, the Assistant Administrator for Water highlighted the "Four Pillars of Sustainable Infrastructure" - Better Management, Full-Cost Pricing, Water Efficiency, and Watershed Approaches to Protection. This website describes and provides information about the Four Pillars.
Better Management - Better management practices like asset management, environmental management systems, consolidation, and public-private partnerships can offer significant savings for water utilities - both large and small. An informational page about the different EPA programs supporting better management is under construction. For now, please see our pages on environmental management systems and capacity development.
Full-Cost Pricing - A key consideration in constructing, operating and maintaining infrastructure is ensuring that there are sufficient revenues in place to support the costs of doing business. Sensible pricing can also have the added benefit of encouraging efficient water use. Information about water pricing can be found on EPA's Water and Wastewater Pricing pages.
Efficient Water Use - One way to reduce the need for costly infrastructure is to better manage uses of water. There are many options for enhancing water efficiency including metering, water reuse, water-saving appliances, landscaping and public education. Information on practices that encourage efficient water use, including information about a new initiative to promote water efficient products in the marketplace, can be found on EPA's Water Efficiency pages.
Watershed Approaches to Protection - In addressing infrastructure needs for the purposes of water supply and water quality, it is important to look more broadly at water resources in a coordinated way. Targeting resources towards highest priorities, permitting on a watershed basis and water quality trading are all means of ensuring that actions achieve the greatest benefit. An informational page on watershed approaches is under construction.