Leaders in Washington have a unique opportunity to address one of the most critical challenges facing Buffalo – and our nation – by ensuring adequate funding for water and sewer investments in the infrastructure package moving through Congress. We hope that lawmakers do not squander it.
Water and sewer improvements and maintenance have taken a back seat to transportation infrastructure, which has also been historically underfunded, for decades. The result of this neglect is a water and sewer system pushed to the edge of operational capacity, the maintenance of which can no longer be delayed without risk of serious repercussions to residents.
In the same way our homes require regular maintenance to ensure their integrity and longevity, the structural foundations of our communities – like water and sewer lines, roads, sidewalks, lighting and broadband – require the same investment. Unfortunately, America has failed to meet this commitment and it shows.
A majority of the nation’s infrastructure categories were in the “D” range in the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, with the nation overall earning a lackluster C-.
For residents of Buffalo, this lack of investment means that 150 miles of lead service lines in our community have yet to be replaced. According to a recent report by the National League of Cities, replacing these will cost the city between $350 million and $500 million. The longer we wait, the higher that cost grows.
Without significant investment in our water and sewer infrastructure now, the country faces an $8 trillion bill in the near future, which will cost families $3,300 a year over a period of 20 years, according to ASCE estimates. That option is not sustainable.
Furthermore, the returns on this investment extend far beyond a better water and sewer system. These projects will create good-paying jobs for years to come.
They will support more sustainable development to help our cities grow rather than encourage sprawl, which reduces the availability of resources.
And perhaps most importantly for this historic moment, these investments will allow us to live up to the principles of equity and environmental justice.
Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as Rep. Brian Higgins, have already recognized the importance of this funding and we hope that they will be able to convince their colleagues on both sides of the aisle of the wisdom of this investment.
Oluwole McFoy is chairman of the Buffalo Water Board and general manager, Buffalo Sewer Authority. Maria Lehman is president, American Society of Civil Engineers 2023.