By State Senator Jamie Eldridge and Representative Carolyn Dykema
MetroWest Daily News
August 4, 2013
Every day, without thinking twice, we wash our faces and brush our teeth with safe, clean water. Water plays a fundamental role in our everyday lives, yet we often fail to appreciate the systems that bring it to our tap every day. The Globe’s week-long series highlighting the importance of water infrastructure calls attention to this critical yet often ignored issue in Massachusetts. It’s time that we start paying attention.
Largely unseen to us, our cities and towns maintain over 125,000 miles of sewer pipes and 100 municipal wastewater treatment plants, in addition to thousands of drinking water wells and over 200 surface water supplies. According to recent findings of the state Water Infrastructure Finance Commission (WIFC) we co-chaired, the state is failing to adequately invest in maintaining these systems. The commission estimated a $10.2 billion gap in drinking water and $11.2 billion gap in wastewater funding over the next 20 years. This gap will only grow the longer we wait to address it.
According to the EPA, water main breaks are occurring every 2 minutes across the country, and Massachusetts is no exception. Federal funding for water infrastructure was once a primary source of water infrastructure funding, but has decreased dramatically. At the same time we’re also faced with an increased need to more comprehensively address water contaminants ranging from organics like phosphorus to remnants like pharmaceuticals.
Here in Massachusetts, we’ve taken the first steps toward addressing this problem by working with interested stakeholders, including public water works managers, engineers, environmentalists, municipal officials, business leaders, government regulators and planning agencies to help move forward recommendations from the commission’s report to close the funding gap and encourage innovation. This session, we have filed a comprehensive legislative package that provides more state financial support to cities and towns, encourages adoption of best practices, and identifies efficiencies including better regional planning.
Water infrastructure is crucial to our public health, quality of life issues and economy and it’s significant that Senate President Therese Murray highlighted water infrastructure as a priority this legislative session. The commission, along with the governor, has also recognized an exciting opportunity to create jobs and expand the economy here in Massachusetts by establishing a water innovation cluster. Establishing a water cluster involves bringing together our academic, entrepreneurial and financial strengths to meet the local and global need for better water resource management through innovation. There are nearly 300 institutions, including university research facilities and start-ups that call Massachusetts home, uniquely positioning the state to emerge as a worldwide water innovation industry leader.
Last month, we joined a broad range of water stakeholders at the second annual Symposium on Water Innovation in Massachusetts (SWIM) conference and we’re excited to be working hand-in-hand with private industry to make the vision of a water cluster and the associated jobs a reality.
Massachusetts became the defining model for investing in public infrastructure in the early 1800s when our cities and towns began constructing water systems to supply residents with clean water. Now, it’s up to all of us to continue the visionary leadership of our predecessors and work together to protect our state’s water supply and water resources for future generations. The quality of life of our residents and economic prosperity depend on it.
Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D- Acton) and Rep. Carolyn Dykema (D-Holliston) co-chaired the state’s Water Infrastructure Finance Commission. More information on the commission and a copy of the final report can be found at http://www.senatoreldridge.com/wpcontent/uploads/2010/11/WIFC_Report.pdf.