American Water Solutions | Infrastructure Research
Boston Massachusetts Water Research Government
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In 2014, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published findings from a survey of state water managers around the country. GAO concluded:


“Our review found that, since 2003, key issues related to freshwater availability and use—such as concerns about population growth straining water supplies, lack of information on water availability and use, and trends in types of water use— remain largely unchanged. In addition, certain issues—the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events on water resources, concerns about maintaining ecological and recreational flows, interactions between surface water and groundwater, and the effect of the energy sector on water quantity and quality—have gained prominence.”1


GAO noted that “widespread freshwater shortages” are expected and highlighted the uncertainty surrounding climate impacts, land use, increasing costs and other factors that make planning difficult for state managers. However, GAO also pointed to states and localities that are assessing water availability, taking into account climate in their assessments, which drive their investments in water infrastructure.2


As our research demonstrates, structure of our energy and agricultural sectors represent enormous challenges to the availability and quality of water, reflecting some of the concerns raised by water managers to GAO. In this report (Chapter) we address additional issues of increasing concern related to water resources, which also reflect the chief factors in securing water resources and providing adequate amounts of safe, clean water voiced by state water managers. These are:


– The steady deterioration of our drinking water infrastructure (water distribution, treatment and storage)


– The regional allocation of water resources now and in the future in the context of climate change and population growth


– Affordability of water bills in the face of increasing costs for replacement and expansion of water infrastructure


– The policy apparatuses to address these issues


In addition, we review the status and response of select cities that are a representative sample of what urban areas are facing with respect to water allocation, pollution, and infrastructure replacement – including the issues of population growth and climate change that impact costs and responses. To assist in determining which cities to study, Civil Society Institute worked with analysts at Lux Research (a firm that provides research and advice on emerging technology) to provide a high level analysis of a number of cities in various regions of the country. The Lux Research analysis demonstrated the difficulty of such assessments given the uneven nature of data available from place to place and that a closer look at individual situations is the best approach at this time to understand the full range of challenges faced by American cities and responses they undertake to meet local water demands.


These cities studied include Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, Memphis, Des Moines, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Boston, Charleston and Cincinnati. They face varying challenges. Review of cities in the Southwest and Atlanta reveal the varying levels of cooperation or tension over allocation of water resources in the Colorado Basin, Alabama– Coosa–Tallapoosa (ACT) and the Apalachicola–Chattahoochee–Flint (ACF) watersheds in the Southeast. The Delaware River Basin Compact serves as an example of a more holistic approach to water allocation in a river basin.


Currently, the most water stressed regions are the Southwest and the Southeast. However, as noted, water availability is becoming an issue in most of the country. The main issue in Des Moines is high levels of nitrates caused by the intense agriculture in the state. Memphis is in an excellent position with respect to water availability and quality but faces a lawsuit from adjoining Mississippi for groundwater withdrawals. Atlanta is the focal point of a 26-year legal battle between states in the Southeast. Chicago is concerned about groundwater withdrawals in the suburbs that could run the city up against its allotment from Lake Michigan over time. Boston and Cincinnati have been addressing quality and replacement issues, with Boston also grappling with sea level rise. Miami is in a highly precarious position, by some accounts, as sea water enters its main source of groundwater and threatens the Everglades while sea level rise is already impacting the city during king tides. Charleston is plagued by high costs and poor service quality. The cities in the Southwest are looking to shore up local water supplies through various means to reduce reliance on the Colorado River, which is under increasing stress from population growth and an extended drought. All face the increasing costs of water infrastructure upgrades and securing water resources for the future.


Ultimately the U.S. needs federal leadership to advance the following:


  •  Drive uniform reporting on the health and operation of local water systems (asset management)
  •  Ensure financial support to ensure that our water infrastructure is sound, our water quality is good, and people stay connected to water services
  •  Provide a comprehensive strategy to manage water resources in a holistic manner that anticipates future needs and impacts of population growth, uses, and climate change while providing for adequate suppliesThe federal government is moving on certain fronts. There are also examples of regional cooperation initiated by states or induced by the federal government where proper authority exists. Additionally, the federal government is working to provide better analytical tools for states and localities with respect to climate impacts and assessing water availability in the country. A key federal initiative to provide guidance to federal watershed facilities is, in part, being blocked by Congress.