As we gather with family and friends and our furry little ones, to share in traditions, delightful meals and cheerful banter, I like to pause and give thanks to all those that have contributed to our communities over the past year – seen and unseen. For many of us, the process of ensuring safe and clean water is one that is ‘unseen’ and often taken for granted. We wake up, turn on the faucet to drink a glass of water, brush our teeth, then hop in the shower, make coffee and pour water into Molly’s bowl as she pants, looking up at us expectantly. All the while, we don’t give a thought as to how this is all possible.
Water is vital for life. We consume it, use it for domestic purposes, for food production and recreational use. We’re aware of the water we drink and bathe with, but what about the water we give to our plants and lawn, to wash the car and for washing Molly, the 6-year-old Lab?
The statistics around our water usage are staggering. In total, America consumes 322 billion gallons of water each day. Yet, according to research by Opinium on behalf of American Water, we underestimate this daily amount by 90%. Most believe they use less than 100 gallons of water each day, when the actual number is more than 2,000 gallons on average.
Who, and what, makes this possible? Let’s look behind the curtain to see why our gratitude is truly merited. We can start by understanding the magnitude of the United States (U.S.) water infrastructure. There are 150,000 public water systems, 91% are in communities of 10,000 residents or fewer. However, 9% are large utilities often dedicated to cities. They cover 79% of the U.S. population. Together, these utilities ensure clean and safe water. They also ensure that wastewater is properly treated before returning to the ecosystem.
Water utilities maintain 2.2 million miles of pipe, replacing, on average, 1-5% of it annually. And there are 1.7 million workers (in 2016) in total, directly involved in “designing, constructing, operating, and governing” U.S. water infrastructure.
An array of suppliers supports the industry with systems and equipment, such as pumps, valves, controls and metering that monitors flow rates, pressure and temperature to ensure water quality and accurate customer billing. Today’s water utility is increasingly smart, using networking and analytics to provide insights that optimize operational efficiency and reduce cost to ratepayers.
And every day, challenges abound for the water industry. Water utilities must manage population growth, climate change, aging infrastructure, a shrinking labor force, regulation changes and community refocus and increased demands. In 2015, the investment needed for the transmission and distribution of water was estimated at $313B. The amount has grown since then. Fortunately, the water allocation in the recent passage of the Infrastructure Bill should significantly help.
So next time Molly greets you at the door with a shiny, clean coat and a tail-wagging in the wind, thank your local water utility, its workers, consultants, suppliers, and regulators, for contributing to this special moment. Happy holidays!