NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Fixing America's Crumbling Underground Water Infrastructure

April 12, 2012

America's population is expected to grow by 100 million by the middle of the 21st century.  This growth will put enormous strains on the nation's infrastructure, including roads, bridges, tunnels and air-traffic control systems.  Yet the transportation system is only the most visible of the infrastructure challenges we face.  Out of sight, if not completely out of mind, are America's vast underground water networks, many of which have reached a state of deterioration that exceeds that of the transportation infrastructure above ground, says Bonner R. Cohen, a senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research.

  • Over the next 20 years, upgrading the nation's water and wastewater systems is expected to cost between $3 trillion and $5 trillion.
  • Building and replacing water and sewage lines alone will cost some $660 billion to $1.1 trillion over the same time period.

These projected expenditures are coming at a time when governments at all levels are facing substantial budget shortfalls.  Yet modernizing the nation's underground water infrastructure is absolutely essential.

Inserting some market discipline into the process would go a long way toward achieving that goal.  Opening up the bidding process under the principle of "may the best technology win" will immeasurably improve the quality of America's underground water infrastructure in a cost-effective fashion.

  • Competitive bidding can serve as an essential safeguard against the influence of politically preferred providers of government services.
  • When government tries to pick winners and losers by mandating the use of one technology over another, it sends out an open invitation to crony capitalism, in which the well-connected gorge themselves at the public trough, at everybody else's expense.

By doing something as simple and sensible as opening up municipal procurement processes to fair competition, the products of our most creative minds can be put to the service of ensuring Americans access to clean, reliable and affordable water in their homes, schools and businesses for generations to come.

Source: Bonner R. Cohen, "Fixing America's Crumbling Underground Water Infrastructure: Competitive Bidding Offers a Way Out," Competitive Enterprise Institute, April 2012.

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