*This post is written by Greg DiLoreto, P.E., P.L.S., ASCE Past President regarding the 6th Annual Imagine a Day Without Water and Oregon ballot measure 3-562 on wastewater infrastructure
Our country has faced an enormous public health crisis from COVID-19. Throughout this emergency, water and wastewater systems kept the water flowing in homes, hospitals, and essential businesses. This crisis demonstrated the critical role that water and wastewater systems play in their communities, protecting public health, safeguarding the environment, and making a healthy economy possible. It is easy to imagine how much worse the pandemic would have been wi
thout widespread access to water infrastructure. Without reliable drinking water and sanitation, Americans would be unable to stay safe and limit the spread. In communities with inadequate water and wastewater infrastructure, the public health consequences have been dire.
Today, we Imagine a Day Without Water – a day to pause and notice the way that water systems impact our lives and communities and commit to ensuring a sustainable water future for generations to come. What if you couldn’t turn on the tap and get clean drinking water, or if you flushed the toilet, and wastewater didn’t go anywhere? What would happen to restaurants, hospitals, firefighters, farms, breweries, or the hundreds of industries that depend on water?
We take water service for granted every day. Turn on the tap, and clean water flows out. Flush the toilet, and dirty water goes away. We don’t usually stop to think about the impressive infrastructure and treatment required to make sure the water comes out when you open the tap, or safely returns water to the environment from your sink. But the truth is, our water and wastewater systems are getting older; some were installed a century ago. Everyone should be concerned with the vulnerability of those systems.
While we now continue to enjoy high quality and reliable water service, maintaining that level of service is going to be harder and harder as America’s water infrastructure continues to deteriorate. In 2019, leaking pipes lost the equivalent of $7.6 billion worth of treated water, and that figure is expected to reach nearly $17 billion in the next 20 years. Costs incurred by American households due to water and wastewater failures would be seven times higher in 20 years than they are today, according to a new report by the American Society of Civil Engineers and Value of Water on The Economic Benefits of investing in Water Infrastructure: How a Failure to Act Would Affect the US Economic Recovery. We’re seeing new threats to our critical water systems from record rainfalls, flooding, toxic algae, drought, and wildfires.
This November, Oregon City residents have the opportunity to vote on ballot measure 3-562, which would provide an easement to Clackamas Water Environment Services (WES), the region’s wastewater service provider, to install the last portion of an outfall pipeline underneath Jon Storm Park. A vote for this measure is a vote to invest in our wastewater infrastructure. The current pipeline is reaching capacity, and a new outfall would allow for highly treated wastewater to be discharged safely into the Willamette River, rather than overflowing raw sewage. A ‘yes’ vote for this measure is essentially an easement to complete the project underneath of Jon Storm Park, which is a requirement of the City’s charter. This new outfall location would be a win-win for the environment, fish, recreationalists, Oregon City residents, and users of the Tri-City Water Resource Recovery Facility. It would provide a better environment for fish and aquatic life while also leaving no permanent impact to Jon Storm Park. If passed, WES will provide additional resources to the City of Oregon City to fund improvements to Jon Storm and Clackamette Parks.
As we look at ways to help lift our economy out of the recession, investing in water infrastructure is a winning solution. Investing in water creates cascading economic benefits, strengthening American competitiveness, raising GDP, creating jobs, and increasing wages. Investing in water provides a path to economic recovery. Imagine a Day Without Water is an opportunity for everyone to get educated about our local water systems and raise awareness with our elected leaders. We need leadership at every level to work together to ensure a reliable water future for generations to come. Investing in water is investing in a future where no American will have to imagine a day without water.