What's the Value of Water? Reflections from Philly During Infrastructure Week 2015

Radhika Fox, Director, Value of Water Coalition
May 18, 2015

The Value of Water Coalition’s cross-country tour for Infrastructure Week made its third stop in Philadelphia What’s the Value of Water? The Pennsylvania Story hosted by the Philadelphia Water, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, American Water, Value of Water Coalition, along with media host WHYY, Inc.

Philadelphia is one of the nation’s most forward-looking cities when it comes to water, necessitated by the fact that many of its pipes are upwards of 80 years old. Philadelphia Water, which is responsible for providing drinking water, wastewater, and storm water services to 2.3 million people is determined to bring the system into to 21st century.

Philadelphia’s water infrastructure is aging and and major upgrades are needed. As Philadelphia Water’s Commissioner Howard Neukrug put it, “There are only two ways to create change: crisis or leadership. When it comes to infrastructure there has been crisis after crisis, but that’s making infrastructure investment a top priority. So leadership is what we need.”

Rob Puentes from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program provided national context on the role of infrastructure in creating jobs. He pointed out that 11 percent of jobs today are in infrastructure, higher than in education and manufacturing. Even more, they are jobs that come with training that support career advancement. In Philadelphia alone, there are more than 250,000 jobs in infrastructure.

Water infrastructure is largely invisible, but has a profound impact on communities. We need to better educate the public about how remarkable water infrastructure is. Just the pipes that American Water owns in Pennsylvania could go back and forth from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh 33 times.

With modern innovations, water infrastructure can help improve our environmental footprint. Aldie Warnock, Senior Vice President with American Water, noted that if we can increase our pump efficiency across the industry from 55 to 80 percent, we will save enough energy to light up Philadelphia for five years.

What’s crystal clear from the Philly discussion is that we must make investment in water infrastructure a top priority. Rebuilding and modernizing massive water systems offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to chart a sustainable, prosperous course for the nation. Around the country, water agencies, business leaders, and communities are meeting the challenge and implementing truly ingenious and creative solutions. Water utilities do more than provide a 24/7 essential service—they also serve as economic anchors, environmental stewards and good community partners.