We have all experienced the frustration of bone-rattling potholes or traffic back-ups from an emergency road repair. But consider this: There’s a hidden infrastructure that is larger and, in some cases, a hundred years older than those roads and bridges. You can’t always see it, but it ensures that we can go about our daily routines without a hitch. It keeps our food growing, our manufacturing plants humming and the lights on in our houses and offices.

An aging problem

These are our water and wastewater systems — mostly underground, out of sight and out of mind. These systems — many of which were built for the America of a century ago, not the sprawling modern cities and suburbs of today — deliver clean, safe water to and from our homes and businesses. Unlike the roads and bridges you see every day, these systems don’t show their age as easily.

What happens when these systems begin to fail? Every facet of our lives would be interrupted. You would not be able to give your dog a bowl of water or make your coffee. Forget about brushing your teeth, flushing the toilet or taking a shower. And that is just in our homes. Commercial enterprises of every kind — from breweries to hospitals to factories — can’t function without clean, reliable water.

“The good news is that if we invest in our water systems, we generate jobs...”

Cracks in the system

Too many communities around America have already experienced how terrible life is without safe, reliable water service. Of course, the tragedy in Flint, MI comes to mind, as well as other communities with aging infrastructure.

In the last year, residents from South Carolina to West Virginia lost water and wastewater service because of terrible flooding. Epic droughts in the Central Valley of California have forced residents whose wells have run dry to move. This is why we must invest in our nation’s water and wastewater systems today to secure a brighter future tomorrow.

How we improve

The good news is that if we invest in our water systems, we generate jobs, grow the economy and lay the foundation for long-term prosperity. As water utilities rebuild and maintain water systems, there is an opportunity to leverage these investments to maximize economic, environmental and social gains.

Tremendous opportunity exists. A report titled The Economic and Labor Impacts of the Water Utility calculated that the 30 largest public utilities are investing $23 billion per year, contributing to $52 billion in economic output and supporting 289,000 jobs annually.

The Value of Water Campaign, a group of water industry leaders, is trying to raise awareness about the vast challenges facing our water systems across the country and the opportunities to implement solutions. Water is our most essential resource. We cannot afford to wait.