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.