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Of all the elements of our public infrastructure, our water systems are the most essential for the daily lives of Americans. The average American family of four uses roughly 400 gallons of water a day for drinking, washing, cooking, cleaning, and more. Businesses and industry throughout our nation also depend on clean water to keep their doors open and to manufacture thousands of goods we use or export every day. Indeed, commercial and institutional water-use amounts to roughly 17 percent of the total fresh water used in the United States. To put these figures in context, producing a single slice of bread requires some 10 gallons of water; producing a gallon of milk requires 1,000 gallons of water; and manufacturing a car uses more than 39,000 gallons of water.
But despite how critical clean drinking-water and sanitation systems are to both the U.S. economy and to public health, many of our drinking-water and clean-water (also called wastewater) systems have been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair. Due to decades of insufficient or misdirected investment, a significant portion of water distribution and sewer systems are reaching or have already reached the end of their intended operational life and are beginning to fail. Every year thousands of aging water pipes burst, costing millions of dollars in repairs and economic losses, while outdated wastewater systems dump billions of gallons of untreated sewage into our rivers, lakes, and streams. These all-too-commonplace incidents endanger both the environment and public health, while also undermining economic growth.This article was originally published in .