Last week’s pipeline explosion in northern California set off renewed concerns about the state of the country’s infrastructure—especially those parts of it we can’t see. Gas pipelines, like much of the stormwater system, exist underground. Problems aren’t always obvious, and it’s difficult to convince the public to spend money on repairs and upgrades when—so far, at least—everything seems to be working as it always has.
With stormwater, it’s often flooding problems or combined sewer overflows that draw people’s attention and lead, eventually, to more funding. Few events in the stormwater realm could be as deadly as a gas explosion, though, and last week’s events are sure to have utility companies around the country scrambling to answer the public’s concerns about safety.
The American Society of Civil Engineers periodically issues a report card [read more...] for America’s infrastructure, assigning letter grades to categories such as bridges, dams, roads, schools, solid waste, and transit. The 2005 report card gave our infrastructure an overall grade of D, with the two water-related categories listed—drinking water and wastewater—each receiving a D minus. In the 2009 report card, the overall grade remains the same, as do those for drinking water and wastewater. (Stormwater isn’t broken out as a separate category; neither is the gas industry, but the category of energy receives an overall grade of D plus.) The main difference seems to be that while the 2005 estimate for what we need to invest in the infrastructure over the next five years was $1.6 trillion, the 2009 estimate for the next five years is $2.2 trillion.