Communities must rethink water system management

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When taxpayers hear the word “infrastructure,” they are more likely to think of things such as roads and airports rather than water pipes. Yet these buried assets are as important to our everyday lives and the economy as the transportation networks we see right in front of us.

The residents of Pittsburgh are learning this all too well; the city’s water system has averaged roughly 40 water-main breaks for every 100 miles of piping over five years. But Pittsburgh is not alone; communities across the country wrestle with outdated infrastructure and political roadblocks to reform.

If taxpayers and ratepayers want to avoid unaffordable utility bills and huge liabilities in the not-too-distant future, they must insist now on more competition, oversight and innovation in the way public officials manage water systems. According to a comprehensive study commissioned by National Taxpayers Union, roughly half a trillion dollars in government expenditures for replacing and augmenting water infrastructure could be saved over the next several decades by adopting these techniques.

Americans may not always pay attention to the pipes beneath their feet that provide the flow of water sustaining their everyday lives, but they know their importance. Public officials, in turn, should not be oblivious to the value of the precious financial assets those Americans have committed — and will be asked to commit — to water infrastructure.

A new plan for water finance goes hand-in-hand with a new respect for ratepayers and taxpayers. Pittsburgh’s citizens — and all of us — deserve the best possible stewardship, oversight and allocation of the resources we entrust to government.

Executive Vice President National Taxpayers Union Alexandria, Va.

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