Water is essential to life. It is also fundamental to economic well-being—with a nexus to food, energy, industrial production, and a host of goods and services. Yet throw a dart on the map, and we see communities that face water challenges. Yes, we made enormous strides to address water-related public health and pollution challenges in the United States over the past century.But a host of new challenges to water quality require us to think of water management in new ways.
When the Clean Water Act was voted into law in 1972, approximately 85 percent of water quality impairments were from “point sources” of pollution, including wastewater and industrial effluent, with only 15 percent composed of runoff from city streets, suburban lawns, and farm fields.More than 40 years later (and after massive investments in structural and highly engineered pipes, pumps and treatment facilities), the pollution distribution today is exactly the opposite, with 85 percent of current water impairments associated with non-point source urban stormwater and agricultural runoff.
Much U.S. water management infrastructure was built even before the Clean Water Act, and, as communities all across the United States are learning, these pipes, pumps and treatment facilities are inadequate to handle current stormwater pollution, manage floods, and sustain water supplies.Aging infrastructure and a significant and growing funding gap to address infrastructure needs today and into the future are leading issues in the water sector.