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Infrastructure is more than roads and bridges. It’s also airports, seaports, and – as we’ll talk about below – the pipes, valves, and the systems needed to supply clean drinking water. The water that comes out of the tap in your kitchen doesn’t get there by magic.
Water infrastructure plays an important role in public health, maintaining a good quality of life for Americans, and for business.
“Without sustainable, reliable supplies of water,” writes, Chuck Chaitovitz, Vice President, Environmental Affairs and Sustainability, at the U.S. Chamber, “attracting new businesses to communities across America becomes more challenging.”
However, like our roads and bridges, our water infrastructure also needs modernization. Earning a “D” grade, according to the Infrastructure Report Card, released by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2017, our water infrastructure has components almost a century old. The Report Card notes, “There are still an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States, wasting over two trillion gallons of treated drinking water.”
To get a sense of what’s needed on the water infrastructure front, Above the Fold talked with Jeff Otterstedt, Senior Vice President of the Pipe Division of McWane Ductile in Coshoction, OH.
Above the Fold: Tell us about your company.
Jeff Otterstedt: We manufacture products for the water works industry. The primary product that we make here is pipe, duct water pipe for transmission and transmission maintenance.
ATF: How many people work for your company on water infrastructure?
Otterstedt: Overall we have 3,000 employees devoted to water infrastructure located throughout the United States.
ATF: How do your products contribute to water infrastructure, what do they do, how do they fit into the system?
Otterstedt: The product we make here at this facility is the backbone of our water infrastructure industry. Our products are used in distribution, transmission, and maintenance throughout the United States. Our primary products are pipes, valves, hydrants, and fittings.
ATF: What do you mean when you talk about water infrastructure?
Otterstedt: Water infrastructure is obviously the pipes, the valves, the fire hydrants the cities use to improve the lives of their citizens. These cities rely on companies like us to bring those products so they can grow, keep their citizens safe, invest, and create jobs within their communities.
ATF: Why is it important to invest in our water infrastructure?
Otterstedt: Much of our water infrastructure is reaching the end of its useful life, and it's time that our country reinvest in that. Water infrastructure is vitally important to growing our economy.
We're currently living off the investment of our fathers and grandfathers, and so those products are at the end of their useful life. We need to reinvest so we don't squander and waste our national resources.
ATF: What’s the state of our water infrastructure?
Otterstedt: The current state of the United States water infrastructure is rated as a D by the American Society of Civil Engineers. What that means is that a tremendous amount, we're talking 30-40% of the water that is treated and pumped ends up not reaching its end user.
ATF: How do we fix it?
Otterstedt: First of all, to fix our nation's infrastructure, there's no single, magic bullet. You got to do a variety of different things, but it starts with reinvesting. Like we reinvest in our facilities, the country needs to come to grips and reinvest in its infrastructure. That doesn't mean just roads and bridges, those obvious things that people see, it also means the infrastructure that you don't see.
ATF: What does Congress need to do?
Otterstedt: Our elected officials are very aware of the current state of the infrastructure, and it's very important they come together.
ATF: How does your company contribute to your community?
Otterstedt: Most of our facilities are located in smaller rural areas, Coshocton being a primary example. We're one of the largest employers in the area. We offer good, well-paying jobs within this community. We have good healthcare, a 401k benefit plan. These are the kind of jobs that our country needs.
ATF: Talk about those jobs a little more.
Otterstedt: These are the kind of jobs that are necessary for our smaller towns in the United States. Those products have been made with a lot of American manufacturing pride, and those people deserve to continue to be able to make the products that serve this industry.
ATF: Getting back to infrastructure investment, if you went to Washington and you were talking to a member of Congress, what would you say to them?
Otterstedt: This kicking the can down the road needs to cease. I would tell elected officials that they need to come together to upgrade and modernize our water infrastructure system for the benefit of the citizens of the United States.
ATF: Any final thoughts?
Otterstedt: In the past our nation has come together to fix insurmountable problems, we've reached that juncture now in water infrastructure, and it's time to put our political differences aside and do the things that are necessary for the prosperity and improvement of citizens’ lives.