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Increasing Innovation in America's Water Systems

America leads in producing cutting edge technologies in nearly every field, from self-driving cars to advanced medical treatments. But the water sector struggles to maintain the status quo, let alone innovate. The infrastructure that collects, treats, and distributes drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater is aging. Meanwhile, affordability concerns have hit a critical juncture. If current trends continue, by 2022, an estimated one-third of American households may find water unaffordable. As the BPC’s Water Task Force explained in a recent paper, Understanding America’s Water and Wastewater Challenges, while direct financial investment is needed, increasing the adoption of innovative technologies and processes will be fundamental to fixing our nation’s water infrastructure. However, existing barriers?risks, costs, regulations, and fragmentation?impede the development and adoption of innovative solutions.

In May 2016, BPC’s Executive Council on Infrastructure released a report outlining a “New American Model for Investing in Infrastructure.” Implementing this new model in the water sector requires: enabling all options to finance projects and their delivery, streamlining regulations, developing life-cycle asset inventories, promoting regional coordination, building technical capacity, enhancing financing tools that transfer risk, and providing a reliable, long-term federal source of funding. This paper applies these recommendations to the water sector, while exploring how to break down barriers to innovation, reduce costs, and improve health and environmental outcomes.

America’s fragmented and deteriorating water infrastructure is in desperate need of innovation.

Continuing the work of BPC’s Executive Council on Infrastructure, the Water Task Force’s members include former mayors George Heartwell (Grand Rapids, MI), Steve Bartlett (Dallas, TX) and Henry Cisneros (San Antonio, TX) as well as senior staff from Xylem and American Water.

Total Infrastructure Spending, By Sector

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