Today is World Water Day and this year’s theme is “Water and Jobs."
Never has that focus been more critical. Living in a city that has direct access to 20 percent of our world’s surface freshwater in the Great Lakes, Milwaukee is uniquely positioned to appreciate and celebrate the benefits of abundant, clean water to our economy and our quality of life.
Water pollution threatens drinking water resources, tourism dollars and commerce. The tragedy that unfolded in Flint, Michigan, is emblematic of just how much failing to invest in infrastructure can cost a community, with economic damages alone predicted to exceed $10 million not including health effects that will cost Flint and it’s citizens for decades.
Despite having access to an excellent water source in Lake Michigan, we are facing our own struggles in Milwaukee.
The city has halted 5 miles of water replacement projects this year due to concerns that this work could cause elevated lead levels in many older homes that have lead lateral pipes, which deliver drinking water to our homes from city sewers.
The city estimates that it could cost the city and 70,000 residential property owners up to $511 million or more to remove and replace all lead pipes.
Similarly, investment needs for the nation’s wastewater and stormwater systems are estimated to total $298 billion over the next twenty years.
The good news is we can fix many of these problems — it’s not rocket science, it’s plumbing.
As we look at how to reduce pollution to our precious waterways, it’s also important to look at proactive solutions — solutions that create jobs as well as a clean water future. In the U.S., every $1 billion invested in water infrastructure is estimated to create more than 20,000 new jobs.
Investment in water infrastructure programs creates these jobs through the replacement and upgrade of pipelines and treatment plants and the installation of green infrastructure projects.
The time is now to find innovative funding sources and solution to address our old and failing water infrastructure.
This World Water Day, as we reflect on our most pressing water related issues, we should also look toward the future. Investment in jobs that create pollution solutions is essential for preserving our most precious resource and bettering our community for generations to come.
World Water Day on the Web
Cheryl Nenn is riverkeeper with Milwaukee Riverkeeper. Milwaukee Riverkeeper works to protect water quality and wildlife habitat in the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic River Watersheds. Riverkeeper is a part of the international Waterkeeper Alliance, made up of 282 watchdog organizations on six continents, employing 934 people advocating full-time for clean water and healthy communities.