A Look at U.S. Water Infrastructure

May 23, 2023
 by Seven Seas News Team

Recent data shows that agriculture is the largest consumer of water in the United States, at 37%. Per capita water consumption in America rivals the highest worldwide. That's a lot of water infrastructure.

Updates are needed, and modern technology can renew the system

Water infrastructure in the United States forms a vast network of independent systems that work together to deliver safe, reliable, and inexpensive water and wastewater services to every community. The system is facing challenges, but infrastructure renewal will bring great opportunity for economic growth. It will also mean big investment costs, but newer delivery modes make it doable.

Millions of Miles of Water Lines

The most recent U.S. Geological Survey data shows that per capita water consumption is near the top worldwide. Agriculture is the largest consumer of water at 37%. Public consumption accounts for 12%, while mining and industry account for 6%.

There are 148,000 water works nationwide, 50,000 of them community systems. About 9% of community systems serve almost 80% percent of the country. Two million miles of pipe move 39 billion gallons of water to the American public daily, from sources that include surface water at roughly 60% and groundwater at 40%.

Challenges Leading to Failures

But growing challenges are pushing many nodes in our network toward failure. Chronic underinvestment, demand from growing populations, extreme weather patterns, and a messy regulatory landscape make for a complex problem. The greatest challenge is that many U.S. water and wastewater treatment facilities and pipe networks are simultaneously reaching the end of their service life. The American Water Works Association calls it the “Replacement Era.”

Other Ways to Face Water Sector Challenges

Although much hardware in the network does need replacing, it is important to be aware of other sources beyond surface and groundwater, including wastewater. There are dependable wastewater treatment technologies. Thousands of water reclamation plants around the nation are proving that reuse is a valuable water source.

Coastal or island communities have limitless supplies of water for desalination, and brackish aquifers far inland hold 800 times more water than the nation pumps annually. Brackish water is easier and cheaper to desalinate than seawater and could be a lifeline for many communities, even the parched West.

Managing Water Infrastructure Renewal Costs

Another challenge of water infrastructure renewal in the U.S. is how we will pay for it, and how we will keep it running.

Newer infrastructure delivery modes answer with innovation. Build-own-operate (BOO) and build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) financing structures are two of the most popular innovations and they are frequently used in public-private partnerships. They solve the problem by lowering or eliminating initial investment, and by bundling long-term operations and maintenance with infrastructure.

Newer Ways to Deliver Water

Complying with all the regulations and managing the increasingly technical equipment can be highly burdensome for some water systems. Retaining the expertise of a specialized water company removes the burden. These water companies can understand and manage risk in water infrastructure delivery better than other entities.

Seven Seas Water Group’s Water-as-a-Service® delivers desalination infrastructure, wastewater treatment and reuse, or both for a complete water cycle solution, with financing to make infrastructure happen. Contact Seven Seas to explore new ways to renew American water and wastewater infrastructure.

Image Credit: fotokostic/123RF