What Americans Should Know About Water Infrastructure?

American Water recently conducted a survey to better understand the knowledge gaps when it comes to water infrastructure. The results highlighted how much there is to learn when it comes to education on our water systems, and we’re excited to dive in.

The infrastructure basics
They’re often out of sight and out of mind, so it’s not surprising that you may not know how many miles of pipe are below your feet. Underground pipes are essential to the flow of everyday life and play an integral role in delivering water to your tap. How many miles of underground pipe are in our country’s water infrastructure?

  • What Americans think: Half (49%) of respondents estimate the United States’ water infrastructure system is comprised of 1 million miles of underground pipes or less. Three in 10 (30%) estimate the miles of underground pipes at 500,000 miles or less.
  • The facts: The United States’ water infrastructure is comprised of 2.2 million miles of underground pipe. In 2021, the ASCE gave U.S. drinking water infrastructure a C- grade. As a company that serves more than 14 million customers with pipelines totaling over 52,000 miles throughout the country, American Water is committed to making the necessary investments that our water infrastructure requires, across the nation.

The necessary investment
Improving our water infrastructure comes at a price. For all of the important work that the water system has done and continues to do, there’s an equally impressive financial need. What is the cost of improving our water infrastructure?

  • What Americans think: A majority of Americans (56%) estimate the cost of improving our water infrastructure costs $1 billion or less.
  • The facts: The projected cost of improving water infrastructure is $129 billion. American Water’s commitment includes investing $28-$32 billion in capital over the next 10 years to continue to maintain the quality and reliability of water and wastewater systems, increase the resiliency of critical assets, as well as increase energy conservation efforts. Recently, the federal government passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will invest $55 billion into U.S. water infrastructure.

The underlying problem
One of the most critical problems for water infrastructure, and why it requires such a large investment, is that the system is getting older. What is the lifespan of underground pipes?

  • What Americans think: On average, Americans estimate the lifespan of underground pipes is 48 years.
  • The facts: In this case, respondents underestimated the resiliency of pipes: the pipes that deliver water to homes and businesses across the country have an average lifespan of 75 to 100 years. With that being said, pipes across the country are reaching the end of this span, increasing the need for investment and replacement.

The current issues
When aging infrastructure is not addressed, issues can occur, with potentially significant consequences. One example is a water main break — but how often do they really occur?

  • What Americans think: Half (53%) of Americans estimate that a water main break occurs every couple of hours or less.
  • The facts: Water main breaks occur every couple of minutes. It’s estimated that this frequency of water main breaks and pipe leaks, due to aging water infrastructure, causes the United States to lose approximately 6 billion gallons of treated drinking water every day. But, through American Water’s proactive response planning for infrastructure investment and replacements, we are replacing aging pipes at a faster and higher rate than the water utility industry average.

There are other threats to our nation’s water infrastructure — including some you may not expect. For example, is water infrastructure susceptible to cyberattacks and supply chain disruptions?

  • What Americans think: More than three in five Americans were not aware that water infrastructure is susceptible to cyberattacks and supply chain disruptions (64% and 62%, respectively).
  • The facts: Water infrastructure has many threats to its everyday flow, including cyberattacks and supply chain disruptions. That’s why American Water has a dedicated team of certified professionals who help maintain the cybersecurity of our informational and operational technology systems; safeguard the physical security of our staff, facilities, and assets; and provide emergency response and business continuity activities.

What you can do!
At American Water, it is our job to help ensure that high-quality water reaches your faucet every time you turn on the tap. By taking care of our pipes, investing in our infrastructure and protecting our systems from malicious external threats, we work hard to help keep your life flowing. But, with that in mind, are there any actions that consumers can do to protect to our country’s water infrastructure?

  • What Americans think: More than two in five Americans don’t know that flushing wipes and cotton products damages our water infrastructure (45% and 43%, respectively). Moreover, 38% of Americans don’t know that pouring cooking fats, oils, and grease down the drain crate clogs and negatively impact the condition of underground pipes and water mains.
  • The facts: Americans could help reduce additional stress on our water infrastructure system every day by avoiding these easily preventable actions. In fact, we can all protect our critical water infrastructure though simple actions such as rethinking what we pour down our sinks and flush down our toilets.

At American Water, we believe everyone should be able to trust their tap to provide safe, clean, reliable water, whenever they need it. But it’s important to know the facts about the infrastructure and the actions and investments required to help keep life flowing. We’re proud to have a team of hard working and dedicated employees who are committed to maintaining and improving our country’s water infrastructure.