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Great Water, Great Coffee -- Milwaukee, Imagine A Day Without Water

10/14/20 06:30:am
Blue Notes by Kevin Shafer

We all have a morning routine. We turn on the tap, and clean water flows out. Flush the toilet, and dirty water goes away. It is a no brainer and we all take this for granted.  The question is: What would your routine be if you did not have clean water? Imagine that. Imagine a day without water.

When you have reliable water service, you don’t have to think twice about the infrastructure that brings water to your home or business, and then safely returns water to the environment – but we all should.

The reality is, America’s water infrastructure is deteriorating. As our nation’s water systems age, disruptions will become more common.  These disruptions are costly to businesses and the economy.

Without investment, water and wastewater systems will continue to deteriorate, leading to serious consequences for public health and the economy. As a nation, if we continue on the current path, by 2039, we will have accrued a cumulative capital investment gap of $2.2 trillion, and a $3.9 trillion decline in the gross domestic product (GDP) due to negative impacts to other industries, depressed wages, and lost jobs.

Here in Milwaukee, we are not immune to this national trend. While we have made huge strides forward to provide clean water and to protect our water environment, there are many challenges we still must tackle, and this will require further investments.

a day without water 2020 graphic

At Milwaukee Water Works (MWW) we strive for a 100-year replacement cycle for our water mains. Water mains installed in the late 1800s are present within our distribution system and are susceptible to breaks due to the annual freeze-thaw cycle. Our Linnwood Water Treatment Plant has been in continuous operation for over 80 years, and the cost of replacement and technological improvements are added to annual operation and maintenance costs to ensure high-quality water leaving our plants.  Notwithstanding decades of successful corrosion control treatment, we are challenged to fund the replacement of over 70,000 lead service lines that serve our community. 

At the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) some of our infrastructure was built over a century ago. While still functioning well, we must constantly repair and replace this aging infrastructure. We face challenges of rainwater entering the regional sewers from private property and of new “forever chemicals” that are increasingly prevalent in our water that the utilities are expected to try to remove from the environment. These challenges are common themes across the country.

As public utilities, all this work is completed with our customers in mind and an effort toward affordability. Investing in water infrastructure creates cascading economic benefits, strengthening American competitiveness, raising GDP, creating jobs, and increasing wages. Even if we just covered one-half of our capital investment needs, we would create over 700,000 jobs, raise wages by $2 trillion, and increase GDP by $3.5 trillion above baseline projections.

As we face the largest economic depression in a generation, investing in water provides a path to economic recovery. Investing in our water infrastructure is investing in a future where no American will have to imagine a day without water.

October 21st is a day we ask you to imagine a day without water. On that day, we ask everyone to consider what their lives would be like if they couldn’t turn on the tap and get clean drinking water, or if you flushed the toilet and wastewater didn’t go anywhere. What would that day be like?

It would be horrible!

- Karen Dettmer, P.E. - Superintendent, Milwaukee Water Works  and Kevin L. Shafer, P.E. - Executive Director, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District


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Join us, Wednesday, October 21, 2020, at 8 am, as Milwaukee’s Water Leaders Karen Dettmer, Milwaukee Water Works Superintendent, and Kevin Shafer, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District Executive Director discuss our local water systems in Greater Milwaukee, WI.

panoramic view of boats in the harbor in Milwaukee