The Importance of Infrastructure in the face of Natural Disasters

Continuing with our lead-up to “Imagine a Day Without Water”, this post focuses on the recent disaster-related impacts of failing infrastructure from Hurricanes Maria and Irma, some of the most powerful storms to hit the United States in many years. There is currently a capital need of $123 billion per year to close the gap between increasing demand and decreasing maintenance of water infrastructure – and this gap is widening every day.

At the intersection of both negligence and disaster-caused infrastructure lies Puerto Rico. The country, recently hit by Hurricane Maria, has very little functioning infrastructure, and many residents will be without power for up to six months. Therefore, they are without access to water and sewer infrastructure as well. Seeing as Maria was the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico in almost 80 years, it would be easy to assume that the current infrastructure issues are the result of the unprecedented storm. However, as Dr. Yarimar Bonilla, Rutgers professor and Puerto Rican native, points out in a recent NPR segment, the problem started long before with the government’s decision to prioritize paying off debt rather than performing basic maintenance on the country’s electric, water, and wastewater systems. She notes that much of the damage could have been avoided if the proper maintenance work had been done when it was necessary. Now, with the addition of the storm damage, the issue is much more difficult (and costly) to solve. Listen to the full podcast here.

In Florida, Hurricane Irma overloaded local infrastructure, causing physical damage and health risks. Raw sewage and wastewater flooded the streets as a result of failed pumping stations and backed up sewers. Due to overwhelmed and under-maintained infrastructure, rebuilding will take even longer, as efforts can only begin when the area is “clean, dry, and free from potential health hazards.” The situation in Florida points to the necessity of designing infrastructure systems to fit local needs, such as extreme weather. Read more about the affects of Hurricane Irma on infrastructure here.

Keeping our natural waterways clean is important, but so is making sure our manmade water systems stay so as well. Make sure your local, state, and federal officials know you value investing in our nation’s infrastructure!

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