Allen: Invest in water infrastructure

Allen: Invest in water infrastructure

August 23rd, 2014 by By Deron Allen in Opinion Columns


Tennessee American Water encourages you to take the time to learn more about infrastructure issues, what it takes to draw water from a natural source, transform it into quality drinking water and deliver it directly to the tap. Visit or

Recently there have been some large main breaks across the nation which have made headline news. For example, the University of California, Los Angeles, had such a large water main break on its campus that it submerged athletic fields and trapped people in a parking garage.

Events like this raise awareness to what community water and wastewater providers have known for quite some time: Our infrastructure needs major investments and the time to act is now. Because these systems are underground and out of sight, the problems are not immediately visible like an aging road or bridge. In addition, water systems are generally very reliable so most consumers do not think about potential issues.

In 2013 the American Society of Civil Engineers, in giving a letter grade to America's infrastructure, rated our nation's overall drinking water system infrastructure a "D." The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency projected that $380 billion is required to replace aging water infrastructure over the next 20 years. Every day across our country, broken pipes waste more than seven billion gallons of clean, treated drinking water.

How did we as a country get in this situation? Much of America's water infrastructure was first installed in the mid- to late-1800s. Chattanooga's water system was established in 1856.

Each year Tennessee American Water Co. invests about $17 million to make improvements to our system. This year, these projects include eight scheduled main replacements which upgrade to larger, ductile iron mains as well as provide better pressure and more reliable service in neighborhoods.

Our customers play an important role because each time they make a water payment, they help to make critical improvements to our water system. We plan these projects based on greatest needs, balanced by the price our customers pay. We are also very careful to manage our costs by operating as efficiently as possible.

But not all community water systems have made needed investments in their water delivery systems. Those communities that have tried often get pushback from elected leaders, customers and others who simply don't want to pay more. This is especially true of many of the smaller systems which are most challenged economically because of low tax revenue streams in their community and small customer bases over which to spread infrastructure costs.

No one wants to see costs for anything go up. However, if the U.S. is to continue seeing the public health, safety and economic benefits of quality water systems, we must find new ways to make the necessary investments in order to meet modern needs, comply with stricter regulations and prepare for the future.

Convenient water and wastewater services have been one of our community's greatest achievements over the past 125 years. Now it is up to us to keep those systems performing at the level we need to continue growing our community and maintaining the high level of environmental stewardship that is expected in the Tennessee Valley.

Deron Allen, president of Tennessee American Water, has more than 30 years of experience in the water utility industry.