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Elevating Water as a Global Priority

Insights from USWP National Executive Committee Members

From Hurricane Matthew and the unprecedented drought across the American West and Southeast to water quality issues in Flint, our fellow Americans know that with each passing day, our water security becomes a more acute challenge affecting our lives.

It is also clear that water underpins the health, wealth and security of the world. By 2025, nearly two-thirds of the world’s population will be living under water stressed conditions. A 2012 National Intelligence Community (NIC) Assessment on Global Water Security noted that water challenges will increase the likelihood of instability and state failure, promote regional tensions, and prevent countries from working toward peace and security, for example in food and energy security, that are important to the United States. This issue was confirmed by more than 750 heads of state, CEOs, and civic leaders who, for the second straight year, ranked water as a top global risk to industry and society for the next decade. The recent Global Risks 2035: The Search for a New Normal, by former NIC strategist Mat Burrows, ranks water security as among the top 10 priorities for the Trump Administration.

At home, our water infrastructure – not just in Flint, but in thousands of communities – is in disrepair. The U.S. EPA estimates that approximately 240,000 water mains break every year in the U.S., and almost $2.6 billion is lost as water mains leak trillions of gallons of treated drinking water. We recognize the U.S. needs to address the issue of water infrastructure across the country.

How much will it cost? The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that it would cost $2.1 trillion to replace all pipes today, or $1 trillion spread over twenty-five years. Regardless of how and when we look to make the necessary replacements in water infrastructure, there is a massive financing gap preventing us from updating degraded water infrastructure. Besides the cost, there are many other barriers to replacing degraded water infrastructure in the United States. Many communities lack the technical capacity and business plan development at the local, small community and municipal level to address infrastructure needs. Similarly, there is a lack of critical information, either through outdated or inaccessible data, about current underground infrastructure.

Recently, we participated in the Concordia Summit to raise awareness of the importance of this issue to global leaders in attendance. While there, we highlighted that we are at a unique time to act. There is broad recognition regarding the urgency of the issues, and the transition period offers a significant opportunity to shape the role water can and must play in the national and global agenda going forward.

Across the world, governments and communities have demonstrated the ability to provide water security for their citizens through innovative technology, resources and capacity building efforts. Some estimate amounts as high as $6.7 trillion are required to meet global water needs by 2050. We recognize the U.S. will not solve these challenges on our own, but we have the expertise and resources to invest and catalyze the partnerships necessary to address these highly serious but solvable challenges. U.S. Water Partnership offers a catalytic platform for public-private partnerships that delivers immediate impact while building long-term solutions for water security both in the U.S. and around the world.

Building the resilient water systems of the future is no longer a luxury. We, along with many of our partners, other leaders and stakeholders throughout the water sector, are already beginning the work needed to make this happen, and we invite you to join us.

Please watch the video of our interesting panel discussion and read the transcript of General Jones' remarks at the Concordia Summit.

Blog post authors:

  • Ambassador Paula J. Dobriansky, former Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, Vice Chair USWP National Executive Committee
  • Sherri Goodman, former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Environmental Security, Public Policy Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, USWP National Executive Committee Member
  • General James Jones, former National Security Advisor to President Obama, President of Jones Group International, USWP National Executive Committee Member
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