September 15, 2016
The alarm goes off and you rise to face another day. As you rub your eyes free of sleep, you head to the kitchen to start your coffee maker and then head to the bathroom where you use the toilet and run your shower. After you towel off, you brush your teeth … depending on your grooming habits, you might also need a shave. After pouring your coffee, you make the rounds watering your plants and flowers. Your microwave beeps and your instant oatmeal awaits. Before you head out the door, you pour water into your pet’s bowl and the day has begun.
But, imagine, for a moment, a day without water. You have just used life’s most precious resource in almost a dozen very normal ways. And none of what you did in your first hour of the day could ever happen. And you haven’t even left the house.
Commercial enterprises, from hospitals to breweries, factories to power plants, carwashes to aquariums; they all need water. And what happens to our fire protection without water. Our lifestyles…our lives…would not be the same.
Water and wastewater systems have been so reliable that there has become a complacent “out of sight, out of mind” approach to our infrastructure. But they work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, to bring clean, safe water to us and take it away after we use it to be treated before it is safely released back into the environment. Unlike the potholed roads you see on your daily commute, these systems – many of which were built for the America of a century ago, not modern metropolises and sprawling supply chains – don’t show their age as easily. But a broken water system is absolutely devastating.
What happens when these systems fail to keep up with our needs? Imagine a day without water. You would not be able to give your dog a bowl of water or make your coffee. Forget about brushing your teeth, flushing the toilet or taking a shower. And that is just residential use. Commercial enterprises, from hospitals to breweries, factories to power plants, carwashes to aquariums, need water, too.
Too many communities around America have already experienced how terrible life is without safe, reliable water service. The catastrophe in Flint, Michigan comes to mind, as well as other communities facing broken infrastructure that taints water supplies and leaves residents fearful. Beach goers along the Great Lakes are accustomed to seeing beach closure signs because untreated sewage overflows make water unsafe for swimming. New Orleans’ residents routinely have “boil water advisories.” In the last year, residents from South Carolina to West Virginia lost water and wastewater service because of terrible flooding. And communities experiencing epic drought in the Central Valley of California have literally relocated residents because their wells have run dry. These communities know that a day without water is a crisis.
It’s why we at WSSC are taking part in a nationwide educational effort called “Imagine a Day Without Water.” Hundreds of organizations across the country, including water agencies, mayors, engineers, contractors, business and labor leaders, schools, and other community organizations are joining forces to raise public awareness and spark action to solve water and wastewater problems today, before they become a crisis tomorrow.
And while water falls from the sky and flows through our rivers, it is far from free. Here in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, over a third of our water mains are 50 years or older and in danger of failing. While we are replacing over 55 miles a year of water mains, the cost is over $1.4 million per mile. We are also under a consent decree to repair our aging sewer system. When all of that work is complete, the total cost is over $1.4 billion.
The good news is that by maintaining the system, upgrading our pipes and deploying new technologies that spot weaknesses before they turn into breaks, we can save money in the long run, prevent disruptions to daily life, and protect the health of our citizens and economy.
So, imagine a day without water. Maybe it’s a bit melodramatic. But we need to imagine the consequences of ignoring the issue. Because the next step is to start acting, and then maybe we can keep “Imagine a Day Without Water” from becoming a reality.
Thank you for your time and attention to this serious matter. I encourage you to share this letter with your family and friends in the coming days. It is important that the value of water is fully understood by everyone in our communities.
With warm regards,
Carla A. Reid
General Manager and CEO