Water and sewer systems, among the most basic things needed to keep civilized society going, are in danger of falling apart across America. Around a quarter of drinking water already leaks from pipes before it reaches the faucet, and without urgent repairs to the vast majority of water systems—many of which should have been replaced decades ago—experts warn that water bills will skyrocket, water services in many regions will be routinely disrupted, and contamination caused by sewage bacteria will soar.
The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that another $9.4 billion needs to be spent every year between now and 2020, but with sewage systems out of sight, it is likely to be hard to sell the public on the need for higher taxes and fees to pay for repairs. "To me it’s the unseen catastrophe," the general manager of the DC Water and Sewer Authority tells the Washington Post. "My humble view is that the industry we’re in is the bedrock of civilization because it’s not just an infrastructure that is a convenience, that allows you to get to work faster or slower. At least with bridges or a road, people have some idea of what it is because they drive on them and see them." (Read more infrastructure stories.)