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Earth Day – April 22, 2009, marks the 39th anniversary of this environmental movement. Founded by Wisconsin U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson and spearheaded by Denis Hayes in 1970, Earth Day has been credited with the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of earth-protecting legislation such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.

I have to admit, I usually don’t do anything special for Earth Day. I’m usually working. But I believe that my work, keeping drinking water systems and wastewater treatment plants running, is just as important to the environment as staging a rally. After all, every life form needs water–clean water.

And despite all the doom and gloom talk of bad carbon footprints, pharmaceuticals in the water, and water wars, I think we’re doing a pretty good job overall of keeping the planet safe for future generations.

Could we do more? Sure. But the point is, we have to use our brains and common sense–not emotion–to figure out what works best for sustainability.

Really, every day is Earth Day, isn’t it?

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The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)–in a quest to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public–produces a report card depicting the condition and performance of our country’s infrastructure. Grades are based on the physical condition of our infrastructure, and the budgetary shortfall for bringing it to acceptable levels.

Fifteen infrastructure categories were reviewed: Aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, energy, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, public parks and recreation, rail, roads, schools, solid waste, transit and wastewater.

The 2009 Infrastructure Report Card is out–and we’re not looking good. Our overall grade for the 15 infrastructure categories scored is a “D.” What factors influence this dismal report card in every category? 

Chronic underfunding and delayed maintenance. I’m sorry to say that drinking water and wastewater both had the lowest grade of “D-,” as did inland waterways, levees and roads. Solid waste had the highest grade of “C+.”

The stimulus money will provide some help, but doesn’t come close to solving the problems, as shown by the chart in ASCE’s Executive Summary. For instance, at a recent meeting with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, utility managers and consultants were told that while there was approximately $80 million of federal stimulus funds available, there were already over $1 billion in funding requests for drinking water projects.

Drinking water alone has a nationwide annual shortfall of $11 billion needed to replace aging treatment components, distribution systems and other water infrastructure.

This report is well done, right-on, and downright scary. We can only hide our heads in the sand so long before the infrastructure in our great country crumbles around–above–and underneath us.

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