Dams again earned a grade of D. The average age of the 84,000
dams in the country is 52 years old. The nation’s dams are
aging and the number of high-hazard dams is on the rise.
Many of these dams were built as low-hazard dams protecting
undeveloped agricultural land. However, with an increasing
population and greater development below dams, the overall
number of high-hazard dams continues to increase, to nearly
14,000 in 2012. The number of deficient dams is currently
more than 4,000. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials
estimates that it will require an investment of $21 billion to
repair these aging, yet critical, high-hazard dams.
Levees again earned a near failing grade of D- in 2013. The
nation’s estimated 100,000 miles of levees can be found in all 50
states and the District of Columbia. Many of these levees were
originally used to protect farmland, and now are increasingly
protecting developed communities. The reliability of these levees
is unknown in many cases, and the country has yet to establish a
National Levee Safety Program. Public safety remains at risk from
these aging structures, and the cost to repair or rehabilitate these
levees is roughly estimated to be $100 billion by the National
Committee on Levee Safety. However, the return on investment
is clear – as levees helped in the prevention of more than $141
billion in flood damages in 2011.
Drinking Water D
The grade for drinking water improved slightly to a D. At
the dawn of the 21st century, much of our drinking water
infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life. There are an
estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United
States. Assuming every pipe would need to be replaced, the
cost over the coming decades could reach more than $1
trillion, according to the American Water Works Association.
The quality of drinking water in the United States remains
universally high, however. Even though pipes and mains are
frequently more than 100 years old and in need of replacement,
outbreaks of disease attributable to drinking water are rare.
Solid Waste B-
In 2010, Americans generated 250 million tons of trash. Of that,
85 million tons were recycled or composted. This represents a
34% recycling rate, more than double the 14.5% in 1980. Per
capita generation rates of waste have been steady over the past
20 years and have even begun to show signs of decline in the
past several years. The grade for solid waste improved in 2013,
and it earned the highest grade of B-.
Hazardous Waste D
There has been undeniable success in the cleanup of the nation’s
hazardous waste and brownfields sites. However, annual funding
for Superfund site cleanup is estimated to be as much as $500
million short of what is needed, and 1,280 sites remain on the
National Priorities List with an unknown number of potential
sites yet to be identified. More than 400,000 brownfields sites
await cleanup and redevelopment. The Environmental Protection
Agency estimates that one in four Americans lives within three
miles of a hazardous waste site. The grade for hazardous waste
remained unchanged at a D.
The grade for wastewater improved slightly to a D. Capital
investment needs for the nation’s wastewater and stormwater
systems are estimated to total $298 billion over the next 20
years. Pipes represent the largest capital need, comprising three
quarters of total needs. Fixing and expanding the pipes will
address sanitary sewer overflows, combined sewer overflows,
and other pipe-related issues. In recent years, capital needs for
the treatment plants comprise about 15%-20% of total needs,
but will likely increase due to new regulatory requirements.
Stormwater needs, while growing, are still small compared with
sanitary pipes and treatment plants. Since 2007, the federal
government has required cities to invest more than $15 billion
in new pipes, plants and equipment to eliminate combined
The capital investment needed for wastewater and stormwater
systems is estimated at $298 billion over the next 20 years.