Orange County Branch Newsletter

December 2013


Orange County Water District News - President's Message

by: Shawn Dewane, President, Orange County Water District Board of Directors

One of America's most important report cards was released this year. The 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure, compiled by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), is generated every four years and likely goes unnoticed by countless households. Unfortunately, U.S. infrastructure earned a dismal D+ on the report card, which means infrastructure is in poor to fair condition and mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life. Much of the infrastructure exhibits significant deterioration and is at risk of failing; the price tag to fix this problem is a whopping $3.6 trillion.

In 1988, U.S. infrastructure earned a C from the congressionally chartered National Council on Public Works Improvement report, Fragile Foundations: A Report on America's Public Works. Among the problems identified within the Fragile Foundations report were increasing congestion and deferred maintenance and age of the system; the authors of the report worried that fiscal investment was inadequate to meet the current operations costs and future demands on the system. When the federal government indicated they would not be updating the report after a decade, the ASCE used the same approach and methodology to publish its first Report Card on America’s Infrastructure in 1998. Since 1998, ASCE has released five Report Cards and found each time that these same problems persist. In 2001, U.S. Infrastructure received a D+ with $1.3 trillion needed in infrastructure investments and in 2005 and 2009, it earned D's with $1.6 trillion and $2.2 trillion needed in investments, respectively. Other critical infrastructure earning poor grades include energy, D+, and transit, D. Infrastructure is failing year after year and little to nothing is being done to address it.

California's infrastructure fares slightly better, earning a grade of C in 2012, but is definitely nothing to brag about. California's drinking water and wastewater infrastructure have earned failing marks, each needing $39 billion and $29.9 billion, respectively, over the next 20 years to bring their grades up to B. Overall, the capital investment needs for the nation's water and wastewater infrastructure will total $126 billion by 2020 and $195 billion by 2040. These costs will ultimately be absorbed by everyone who pays a water bill.

With such a challenge looming, communities across the country will need a full complement of innovative financing tools to address the water infrastructure challenge in a fiscally responsible manner. While the state is debating the passage of a water bond and the construction of an alternative conveyance system to bring water from the Bay-Delta to Southern California, Congress began work on resolving the differences between the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) and the Senate’s version of the water resources legislation. However, there does not seem to be any immediate relief in sight. Additional efforts include a group of bipartisan congressional leaders who are discussing the creation of a federal loan program that would reduce the cost of essential water infrastructure projects in our communities with little to no long-term impact on the federal deficit. The program, called the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority (WIFIA), would make federal loans of $20 million or more available to local communities at very low interest rates. Passage of WIFIA could allow communities to resolve more water infrastructure challenges at a lower cost to water customers. A similar program has been in place for many years in the transportation sector that is a proven success. WIFIA is getting some traction from both sides of the aisle as it seems to strike the right balance between local responsibility and federal participation. While this may be a step in the right direction more work is needed to address our crumbling and failing infrastructure.

We are on the precipice of disaster. We cannot continue to ignore our nation's infrastructure to the point of near-failure. The longer we delay, the greater the hazard becomes to public safety and our economy. The dismal grades our infrastructure has earned on this most recent ASCE Report Card is an important call-to-action that should be heeded by all. 


Shawn Dewane
OCWD Board of Directors President

Reprinted, with permission, from:




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