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What’s water worth? More than you might think

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How many times do you use water, directly or indirectly, in a given day? Ten? Twenty? More?

You’ve probably never thought about it. Yet you’ve come to expect the quality and reliability that our state’s water systems provide and that make our way of life possible.

When asked, most Americans would say they care about water; they certainly depend on it. But do they value it? It’s a question not of semantics, but one that relates to the future of water in this country.

To value something means to understand its worth, its importance. Historically, Americans have undervalued water, thanks to effective systems that bring safe drinking water to their homes and businesses, but also because of a lack of awareness of the challenges facing our water infrastructure.

In fact, a 2012 survey by Xylem Inc., a leading global water technology provider, showed that 90 percent of Americans considered water an important service, on par with heat and electricity. Yet 69 percent said they took clean water for granted, and less than 30 percent believed water infrastructure problems would affect them a great deal.

It’s an issue the Value of Water Coalition, a partnership involving the leading organizations responsible for ensuring the safety, reliability and sustainability of the country’s water, is aiming to resolve in a public education campaign that launched nationwide last month.

My company, American Water, has joined together with numerous public and private water resource companies and industry organizations as a single, united voice. Our common goal is to help people throughout the U.S. understand that the nation’s water systems are in need of significant investment to maintain the safety and performance levels we rely on, and that while our efforts have been successful, continuing as we always have is no longer sustainable.

There’s even more at stake. Just as people depend on clean and safe water, so does the entire U.S. economy.

In its newly-released Importance of Water to the U.S. Economy report (water.epa.gov), the EPA highlights the fact that every sector of the U.S. economy is either directly or indirectly dependent on the output of industries that rely on water, especially energy and food production, and water supply, which rely nearly 100 percent on the nation’s water resources.

For a wide range of industries from manufacturing to tourism and everything in between, any drop in water supply or heightened competition for use can significantly impact economic development for the entire country. Changes in even just one sector or region can produce ripple effects across the whole economic system.

Once again, awareness of water’s true worth to our economic welfare is key.

Here in the Hoosier state, where many areas were impacted by severe drought last year, elected officials, water purveyors and other interested parties have been talking recently about water resource planning and the need to work collaboratively to ensure our state has the water resources it needs to compete for jobs and to ensure a high quality of life for our residents. The need for continued investment in our aging water infrastructure is an important part of these discussions.

Indeed, investing in water infrastructure pays off — in well-paying jobs to repair, replace and upgrade our aging water systems, which in turn will ensure safe and reliable water to attract and retain business and qualified workers, essential to creating healthy communities and keeping the U.S. and our communities competitive.

Backed by such efforts as the Value of Water Coalition and the EPA report, we in the water industry need customers to understand what’s at stake and what they would be getting in return. These education efforts are essential to the process, so that we can start making these investments now in order to ensure a clean, safe, and reliable supply of water for our children and all of our futures.

And they will become increasingly important as demands on water resources, such as population growth and the impact of climate change, strain water supplies.

While the challenges we face are significant, they are not insurmountable. In fact, they can be viewed as drivers of the support necessary to institute real, and much-needed, change.

The Importance of Water to the U.S. Economy report underscores the fact that decision-makers in both the public and private sectors will need robust data and information tools to help them sustainably reduce risk and manage the nation’s precious water resources, and to foster the economic and social welfare benefits they provide.

Ultimately, it comes down to gaining awareness of water’s true worth in our daily lives. We depend on it to cook and clean. It is an essential component for a vital economy and environment, not to mention health and fire safety. We need it to exist. What other resource delivers that much?

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