Greening Water Works for Jobs, Infrastructure and the Environment

Some people passionately argue that going green has nothing to do with large-scale job creation and in fact destroys jobs in the fossil fuel industry that can’t be replaced.

Well, there’s a new report from Green For All that debunks that notion. It says that upgrading water and wastewater infrastructure would create nearly 1.9 million jobs and add $265 billion – yes billion – to the economy.

The report, Water Works: Rebuilding Infrastructure, Creating Jobs, Greening the Environment, was released this week by Green For All in partnership with American Rivers, the Economic Policy Institute and the Pacific Institute. The Rockefeller Foundation provided funding for the project.

“Cleaning our environment and putting people to work has always been the value proposition of the green economy,” said Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green For All. “This report demonstrates that there’s a massive opportunity to ensure clean water, improve the economy, and put people – particularly low-income workers – back to work.”

The 62-page report says that “our decaying water infrastructure pollutes our waters, sickens our children, and wastes natural resources. Every year, sewer overflows contaminate U.S. waters with 860 billion gallons of untreated sewage, an amount that could fill 1.3 million Olympic-size swimming pools or cover the entire state of Pennsylvania with one inch of sewage.”

As America’s water infrastructure deteriorates, investment is not keeping pace. The report says total public investment in water infrastructure as a share of the economy is estimated to have fallen by more than one-third since peak levels of investment in 1975.

In addition, 40 percent of rivers and 46 percent of lakes in the U.S. are too polluted for fishing, swimming or aquatic life.

The report argues for an investment of $188.4 billion in water infrastructure – the amount the EPA indicates would be required to manage stormwater and preserve water quality. “That investment would inject a quarter of a trillion dollars into the economy, create nearly 1.3 million direct and indirect jobs in related sectors and result in 568,000 additional jobs from increased spending.”

In addition, the report notes that this is the best moment to make the investment. “With the recession creating a shortfall of 11.1 million jobs that would be needed to keep pace with the population and 9.1 percent unemployment, these are jobs that are critically needed.” Financing costs for these upgrades are at historic lows.

Investing in green infrastructure approaches—such as green roofs, urban tree planting, rain gardens, bioswales, constructed wetlands, permeable pavements and rainwater harvesting—that more closely mimic natural systems is part of the solution. Green infrastructure will also reduce pollution of creeks and other waterways, saving energy, and increasing green space in urban areas.

America’s water infrastructure needs fixing in a country thirsting for jobs and a cleaner environment. But significant new investments to get to get this flowing will be needed, and as always there’s the rub.

[Image Credit: waste to river, Flickr Creative Commons]


writer, editor, reader and general good (ok mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by

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