Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2007 | 7:14 a.m.
Roads and bridges are grabbing all the headlines, but the nation's infrastructure crisis goes much deeper - literally.
Buried several feet under where all of us walk and drive are pipes that deliver our clean water and other pipes that carry away our excess or dirty water.
Tens of thousands of miles of these pipes form an intricate patchwork of vital infrastructure underneath our communities. Unseen, they rarely enter the public consciousness.
That really should change, however. A report released this month by Food & Water Watch, a Washington-based consumer group, makes for very disturbing reading. For example, it cites the grade given to the nation's water pipes by the American Society of Civil Engineers - a D-minus. Knowing that, can turning on a faucet ever be the same again?
The study says water pipes throughout the nation are aged and failing and need replacing. It cites increasingly common overflows from sewage systems and says there are increasing cases of waterborne diseases directly related to issues with the nation's water distribution system.
At the same time that the nation's growing population is adding stress to its outdated water systems, the federal government is dramatically cutting back on pipeline funding, the report notes, forcing local utilities to raise rates.
Increased local rates, however, nowhere near compensate for what is needed. The Environmental Protection Agency, the study points out, says the annual funding gap nationally for water infrastructure amounts to $22 billion.
The study recommends that the federal government set up a Clean Water Trust Fund. Paying into it would be "industries and companies that hamper water quality in the course of conducting their business," the study suggests.
The concept is fine, but the fund would likely fall far short of covering the cost of upgrading the whole country's neglected water lines. Industries and companies that heavily pollute should be assessed more, but we believe everyone should pay a little extra on his water bill.
All of us "hamper water quality" nearly every time we turn on our faucets.