At the McKeon Group, we recognize infrastructure as a high priority for the Trump Administration, but most specifically the importance of water in the 21st century. As you will see below, water will continue to become an ever more important commodity to humanity. McKeon Group is well placed to be a thought leader in this space and to help guide private sector firms to better engage public entities at the local, state, and federal levels on all things related to water policy and infrastructure.
“The U.S. government predicts that forty of our fifty states – and 60 percent of the earth’s land surface – will soon face alarming gaps between levels of water and the growing demand for it. Without action, food prices will rise, economic growth will slow, and political instability is likely to follow.”
The Trump Administration has said little on the issue of water policy and although it was not a main component of the presidential campaign, Trump did drop a few suggestions on the topic. His campaign released a document before the election describing plans for the first 100 days of his presidency and fortunately, water policy was mentioned as a priority in that document.
The plan said it will “cancel billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs and use the money to fix America’s water and environmental infrastructure.” In addition, on multiple campaign trips to California, Trump vowed to “solve” the state’s water problem and criticized environmental regulations protecting fish in a show of solidarity with California farmers.
“If I win, believe me, we’re going to start opening up the water so that you can have your farmers survive, so that your job market will get better,” Trump said to the Los Angeles Times.
Water in the 21st Century
The technology of modern water management was one of the most important public health achievements of the 20th century. Modern water treatment allowed for systems to exterminate deadly diseases such as cholera and typhoid and helped extend life expectancy in the U.S. by up to 30 years. But most of these systems were built almost a century ago, today’s cities look much different than they did in the early 1900’s.
America’s water infrastructure systems are facing serious issues as you can see from the 650 water main breaks that occur every day in the United States. This leads to 7 billion gallons of water and $2.6 billion lost through leaky pipes annually.
To fix and update many of these systems, it will require reinvestment and new financing mechanisms which are often hard to find for localities, municipalities and water districts around the nation.
“The American Water Works Association estimates it will cost more than $1 trillion to replace aging water pipes in the ground, and that figure doesn’t account for necessary upgrades to drinking water or wastewater treatment plants. For decades, 98% of water infrastructure projects have been financed by local communities and ratepayers. Utilities can’t afford to address infrastructure alone. We need to find a balance between local investments, affordable rates that reflect the true cost of delivering these essential services, and access to low-cost federal loans and grant programs.”
The difficulties of financing certain water projects require us to think about different ways of finding streams of capital. Private sector groups we have spoken to said it would be extremely helpful for the future of modern water infrastructure projects if there were more access and mechanisms to use for financing large capital projects. The private sector has identified the major importance and need for more public-private-partnerships.
It is important to work on water issues in an integrated way rather than addressing each individually. Drinking water, wastewater and storm water have often been viewed and managed separately, but it is very important to think about these projects as coordinated functions. As water districts look to the future, they are planning capital programs in a way that combines infrastructure solutions across the water cycle in an interconnected way for resilience and resource management. For example, water districts are investing in water reuse and recycling that requires integration between water and wastewater infrastructure and operations.
Example to Follow – Israel
It is vitally important that lessons are learned from the water pioneer nation of Israel.
“Israel should have been a water basket case, says Siegel, listing its problems: 60% of the land is desert and the rest is arid. Rainfall has fallen to half its 1948 average, apparently thanks to climate change, and as global warming progresses, Israel and the whole Levant are expected to become even drier – and from 1948, Israel’s population has grown 10-fold. During that time, the country’s economy grew 70-fold.”
The key to Israel’s water security are efforts such as drilling deep wells, massive desalination projects, reusing treated sewage for agricultural uses, finding and fixing leaks early, and consciously choosing which crops to cultivate.
The most well-known contribution Israel has made to the water technology market is drip irrigation technology. Instead of flooding the fields with large amounts of water and fertilizer, much of which gets wasted, small amounts of both are dripped directly onto the plant’s roots rather than circular overhead irrigation or general flooding of fields.
It is said drip irrigation technology saves 25%-75% pumped water compared to flood, on average. The aquifers suffer less chemical pollution because of such practices. The crops yield more (about 15%, say experts across the field) and food prices drop, which is good for all.
The American west has a “horrible water governance problem”, as Siegel puts it: Israel has one central water authority, which has been huge for its success. Texas alone has 4,600 public water systems, each with its own interests. This is a difference that will be hard to overcome with 21st century water policies in the United States.
Another key to water conservation is to exploit the use of wastewater. Israel treats almost all its sewage and reuses the water in agriculture. This is a vitally important endeavor that could be extremely useful throughout America’s farmlands. As we continue to recognize California as the most water strained state, this kind of reconsideration of water management could be groundbreaking for areas like the Central Valley in California.
Israel now gets 55 percent of its domestic water from desalination, and that has helped to turn one of the world’s driest countries into the unlikeliest of water giants. It is important to note that Israel reuses 86 percent of the water that goes down the drain and use it for irrigation — exponentially more than the second most water efficient country in the world, Spain, which recycles 19 percent. It would be both economically and environmentally beneficial for the United States to implement such practices in its 21st century water management policies.
- Siegel, Seth M. Let there be water: Israel’s solution for a water-starved world. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/ St. Martin’s Press, 2015.
- “Here Is What Donald Trump Wants To Do In His First 100 Days.” NPR. Accessed January 12, 2017. http://www.npr.org/2016/11/09/501451368/here-is-what-donald-trump-wants-to-do-in-his-first-100-days.
- Los Angeles Times. Accessed January 12, 2017. http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-trump-california-rallies-05272016-snap-story.html.
- Fox, Radhika . “Building 21st Century Infrastructure for 21st Century Cities.” US Water Alliance. May 16, 2016. Accessed January 10, 2017. http://uswateralliance.org/resources/blog/building-21st-century-infrastructure-21st-century-cities.
- Schuster, Ruth. “The Secret of Israel’s Water Miracle and How It Can Help a Thirsty World.”. January 25, 2016. Accessed January 10, 2. http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/science/1.698275.