the global issues of rising water costs, aging infrastructure, depleted water supplies and climate change, this only exacerbates the water access challenges that rural communities face.
As a result, families are often forced to source water from rain barrels or other unsanitary means for everyday use; others need to travel long distances to get water for drinking, cooking and bathing; and many more experience sewage backup into their toilets, sinks or bathtubs. These are daily, ongoing struggles Americans in rural areas encounter.
CONTRACTOR: How can water well pumps, and other technology, aid in closing the gap?
O’Grady: Every American has the right to clean and safe drinking water; however, in rural areas, connecting to centralized water systems can be limited and costly. Instead, using individual and small, shared water wells are an economic and cost-effective option for rural communities. Drawing water from a well as opposed to a municipal water system can offer several advantages, from low utility costs to naturally filtered water supply that contains beneficial minerals and nutrients. Water well installations also serve as localized and independent access points for crucial needs such as drinking water and irrigation. The cost savings are tremendous, and the increased accessibility helps to close the economic gap.
However, closing rural America’s water access gap requires various strategies, including the development of innovative technologies. Smart water technology, ranging from intelligent equipment to smart networks to digital solutions, promotes the sustainable management of water and enhances equity in water accessibility, which will in turn help communities secure water access for vulnerable residents.
CONTRACTOR: In 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was passed, which may result in difficulty getting funds into the right hands. What are you hearing about this, and do you think this is going to have a marked effect on the crisis?
Alexander: The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is largely considered a success in helping address water infrastructure issues. The Act includes $55 billion in water infrastructure funding, including funds for “small and disadvantaged communities” that can be specifically targeted to rural communities. Although the infrastructure bill is a short-term investment, it is a step in the right direction.
CONTRACTOR: In the Solving Water in Rural America: A Xylem Report, there is a call to action where it says solving water insecurity in rural communities means doing things differently—from technology and policy innovation to creative partnerships that build public awareness of water challenges and solutions. Can you expound on this?
Alexander: The water infrastructure crisis and social inequities related to water access remain largely invisible to the general public. By taking a coordinated policy approach to make water systems more stable, safer, affordable and accessible, lawmakers can efficiently and effectively lay the groundwork for future water security. Major players in the water sector like Xylem, the Water Systems Council and Dig Deep are advocating for these public policy initiatives.
There’s also a need to prioritize the adoption of smart water technologies to help rebuild water infrastructure for the 21st century—and do it in a more affordable way. Improving data availability and visibility can help us make smarter investments into our water infrastructure and improve the longevity and resiliency as climate change continues to impact it.
CONTRACTOR: Can you describe what Xylem is doing in Washington to support clean water advocacy?
Alexander: Xylem partners with government officials and advocacy groups to tackle water issues in the US through public policy initiatives.
We have teamed up with other major players in the water sector, advocating for the inclusion of key water projects in federal recovery spending, and building upon the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which allocated an estimated $55 billion to upgrade water infrastructure and replace lead service lines. This included advocating for funding Tribal communities water infrastructure, resulting in the single largest investment in Tribal infrastructure ever ($13 billion) in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
In the spirit of bringing together collaboration across the water sector on these important topics, in June 2022, Xylem launched the Reservoir Center for Water Solutions in Washington to foster collaboration among policy makers, utility associations, foundations and academic institutions to address water-related challenges and build a shared vision for the future of the water sector.