Forum Investment in water infrastructure is critical
The debate over tolls has drawn in Connecticut’s lawmakers of both parties as well as the state’s residents for the better part of the past year. While the debate over moving forward with the tolling plan has been controversial and divisive, no one denies the need for upkeep and improvements on our state’s roads, bridges and transit systems. Connecticut’s infrastructure discussion has been focused on transportation, but the fact is, there are critical infrastructure needs across all sectors, including America’s water infrastructure.
Connecticut is fortunate to be considered a water-rich state. When we turn on our tap, we expect to see clean, high-quality water, and it’s easy to take for granted how this water actually gets to us from the source, whether that be lakes, rivers or groundwater. A lot goes into it, from water quality testing, treatment and filtration at water treatment plants, to transport through pipes underground, to the thousands of water professionals who make reliable, uninterrupted service possible.
While Connecticut has high-quality and generally well-maintained water systems, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that water systems across Connecticut need an investment of over $4 billion to maintain existing infrastructure over a 20-year period (2015-2034). Connecticut Water Co. is mindful of these infrastructure needs and has a strong record of proactively investing in our water systems to meet the water service needs for current and future generations.
Some people may be surprised to learn that water system infrastructure is often 50 to 100 years old. In order to maintain reliable service and provide safe drinking water, aging systems need significant investment to fund rehabilitation and replacement. Public Utilities Regulatory Authority-regulated water utilities, which typically do not get state or federal money for infrastructure investments, are well positioned to invest in water systems. These improvements are primarily funded through customers’ rates, which are reviewed by state utility regulators; the company must prove the work is necessary and the project costs are reviewed before the utility is allowed to recover the investment from its customers.
Through forward-looking planning, this continued investment maintains and enhances dependability and water quality. Locally, this includes Connecticut Water’s Rockville Water Treatment Plant, which had been serving customers in north central Connecticut since 1970 and was replaced in 2017 at a cost of $36.3 million. We are actively replacing aging pipeline — 124 miles at a cost of $145 million since 2008 — which benefits customers and the environment. The Connecticut legislature had the foresight to adopt legislation over a decade ago that authorizes PURA-regulated companies to seek recovery of eligible infrastructure replacement projects through a Water Infrastructure and Conservation Adjustment surcharge, which results in modest charges on bills while encouraging important infrastructure investments.
In addition, these local water infrastructure investments support economic development and create jobs for Connecticut residents. For example, a $17 million investment by Connecticut Water, which serves 59 towns, is estimated to have supported 177 jobs in the state, based on data provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. In addition, water infrastructure is necessary for towns to grow and sustain businesses so these investments support local economic growth. Finally, replacement of aging water system infrastructure conserves water in the distribution system and helps sustain valuable water resources.
A lot of good work is happening already thanks to cooperation from all parties. This includes water conservation efforts — due in large part to resident’s willingness to voluntarily conserve and install water efficient fixtures — which have had a significant impact in reducing per capita water usage. Improvements to Connecticut’s water infrastructure are underway but this issue requires constant attention from water utilities, lawmakers and residents in our state.
With Infrastructure Week taking place from May 13-20, it’s a great time to focus on this issue and talk about how we can tackle big projects and build for tomorrow. I think we’d all agree that sustained investment and thoughtful planning is worth it so we can continue to rely on clean, safe drinking water each day.
David Benoit is president and CEO of the Connecticut Water Co., based in Clinton.