Water is the universal lifeblood….

A clean and reliable water source for drinking, cooking, growing food, and basic hygiene needs provides the foundation for healthy communities and vibrant economies.

According to the Montana chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Montana has over 5,300 miles of water distribution and transmission piping – a longer stretch than driving from Billings to Miami . . . and back.

In 2011, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality identified an immediate water system financial need of $885 million.  This estimated investment deficit is based on three critical elements:  age of the facilities, capacity demands, and increasing regulatory requirements.

Age:  Engineers estimate that the structural service life of most pipes is approximately 75 years (see attached photos of 75 to 100 year old pipe replaced in Cascade).  Many of Montana’s small to medium-sized communities were platted in the early 1900’s and much of their water piping has never been replaced, and older and more established communities have water pipes that date back to the late 1800’s.  In response to a survey conducted by ASCE, 90 percent of responding communities reported that they are replacing none, or very little of their water distribution system on an annual basis, even while experiencing major leaks.  Some small communities experience in excess of 10 leaks per year, and one larger community reported 15 major and 40 minor leaks in 2013.

Capacity:  Population growth puts additional strains on infrastructure.  Of the communities responding to the ASCE poll, 35 percent said their water treatment systems had zero additional capacity.  Over 60 percent reported less than five years of remaining capacity.  Only five percent suggested they had 20 years of capacity in their systems.  Similar figures were reported for the water distribution systems themselves.

Regulatory Compliance:  Of the 700 community water systems in Montana 158 (23 %) are not currently in compliance with regulatory requirements associated with the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

The total cost to replace Montana’s entire water and wastewater infrastructure is estimated to range between $12 billion and $15 billion.  ASCE estimates that the total annual reinvestment by Montana communities is currently around $165 million, statewide.  At this rate of investment, it will take 90 years to replace our aging water infrastructure – this includes both pipelines (with a structural lifespan of 75 years) and water treatment systems (with a service life of approximately 25 years).

Obviously, not all of our water systems need near-term replacement, but with an “immediate” need identified at $885 million (in 2011) and annual expenditures at only $165 million, our current funding pattern will continue to fall woefully short of ever-mounting maintenance, repair, upgrade and replacement needs.

The Infrastructure Coalition is working on a non-partisan legislative package that will help to address some of our most pressing infrastructure needs.  Please join us in expressing your support for comprehensive and sustainable legislation that will begin to address critical infrastructure needs, keep our talented workforce fully employed, and shore up the foundations of a healthy economy in Montana.

About the Montana Infrastructure Coalition

The Montana Infrastructure Coalition is an association of over 70 public and private organizations involved in the design, construction, operation and maintenance of our most critical infrastructure in Montana.  The purpose of this Coalition is to help change public policy and improve the manner in which State and local governments build and maintain these essential community assets.

Leveraging Federal Dollars and Meeting Local Needs

The Montana Department of Transportation has an annual budget of over $710 million.  Over $390 million of that money comes from the Federal government by way of grants through the Federal Highway Administration.  The monies from the Feds are doled out on a project-by-project basis with the State of Montana responsible for approximately 13 percent of the project cost, and the Feds picking up 87 percent of the cost.

Under current projections, the Montana Department of Transportation is expected to fall $27 million short of budget projections, putting many projects and the federal highway matching dollars at risk.

Since the first quarter of this year, MDT has been suggesting that lower-priority projects on secondary highways would be cut, while projects on the Interstate and Primary systems would remain largely unaffected.  (Daily Inter Lake, Mar. 2, 2016)

The Montana Infrastructure Coalition believes that safe and efficient roads and bridges are fundamental elements of a healthy community and a robust economy.  Leveraging the full amount of federal highway dollars available should be a top priority for every legislature.  However, even if the federal match can be made in 2017, the question lingers on what other secondary or local roadway project needs will remain unaddressed.

An average of over 200 drivers are killed on Montana’s highways each year.  Montana’s traffic fatality rate is third highest in the nation, with fatality rates on non-Interstate rural roads standing at more than two-and-a-half times the rate on all other roads and highways in the state.  Yet simple safety improvements – like adding turn lanes, removing or shielding obstacles, adding or improving medians, widening lanes, widening and paving shoulders, improving intersection layout, and providing better road markings and upgrading or installing traffic signals – may be the first projects to be delayed under budget shortfalls.

Funding for such basic safety improvements shouldn’t be an afterthought, and need not be subjected to political negotiations at the end of each legislative session.  It is essential that Montana fully leverage the federal monies available, but we cannot ignore the critical safety needs on local roadways.  With better planning, we don’t have to choose which comes first – we can do both.

Please join the Montana Infrastructure Coalition in expressing our support for a more thoughtful and sustainable approach to local road and bridge funding, and to consistently leveraging federal highway dollars to maintain our state and federal highways across Montana.