Kumar Menon is director of City Utilities for the city of Fort Wayne.
Water is an essential part of our lives every minute of every day. We turn on the faucet and water comes out for us to drink, cook, make coffee, brush our teeth and bathe. We flush our toilets, wash dishes or wash clothes without thinking twice about where that water came from or where it will go. Most of us take water for granted. Indeed, we are fortunate in Fort Wayne to have an abundance of water, but it's not that way across the world or even across the United States.
Today, the US Water Alliance is asking all of us to reflect on the importance of access to clean water through an education campaign called “Imagine a Day Without Water.” While unimaginable for most of us, living without water is a reality for thousands of residents in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico after recent hurricanes incapacitated their water and sewer systems. Additionally, around the country, 36 states are experiencing water shortages this year.
According to the US Water Alliance, one nationwide day without water service would have more than a $40 billion effect on the economy, jeopardizing nearly 2 million jobs. It would either stop or greatly curtail business and manufacturing, farming operations and medical procedures. Reinvesting in our water infrastructure must be both a national and local priority.
At City Utilities, we know that even an hour without water can affect homes, businesses and lives. That's why we've been working 24/7/365 to repair and replace old infrastructure and to reduce water main breaks in our community. In the past four years we've replaced almost 40 miles of our water mains that deliver clean, great-tasting water to our homes and businesses, and ensure adequate water pressure that supports firefighting operations. However, we still have nearly 1,400 miles of water pipe to maintain and last year we had 314 main breaks – far too many.
Our commitment to strengthen neighborhoods and infrastructure will see us continue to make investments that support residents and businesses. This year, as in years past, we are investing in operating, maintaining and, most importantly, replacing our infrastructure. We are making improvements in more than 50 neighborhoods, as well as moving forward with our deep rock tunnel project that will help clean up our rivers.
The needs are great. While our current goal is to invest about $10 million in pipe infrastructure each year, our aging pipe system has more than $23 million per year in needs – and that cost keeps increasing over time. As a municipally owned service provider, City Utilities invests all funds collected for daily system operations and capital improvements. Supported solely by the rates we pay in our monthly bills, we try to balance daily operations and maintenance with much-needed infrastructure investment.
The good news is that Fort Wayne's neighborhood leaders and residents understand and support investing in infrastructure improvements. They are in agreement with the majority of Americans who believe rebuilding our nation's infrastructure is essential. The support from Mayor Tom Henry and our City Council has been consistent and strong as we work to improve our water and sewer systems and protect our waterways.
Continued investment in water and sewer infrastructure is about public health, public safety, the economy and protecting the environment – critical issues to a successful Fort Wayne, Allen County and northeast Indiana. Today, take a moment to think about the value of water and sewer utilities as you Imagine a Day Without Water. With your help, we will work on ensuring you'll never have to actually go a day without our products and services.