A new study puts some data behind claims that the water-wastewater industry can boost the economy through investments in infrastructure.

The study found that 30 water utilities across the U.S. plan to spend an aggregate of $23 billion annually for capital construction and operating costs over the next 10 years. The study, released at WEFTEC's annual meeting in New Orleans on Sept. 29, was funded and published by the Water Research Foundation and the Water Environment Research Foundation.

The research team surveyed utilities from nine of the 10 largest metropolitan areas of the country to find out their spending plans for water, wastewater and stormwater systems over the next decade.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, speaking at the event, said the report shows that the challenge of growing the economy does not run counter to protecting the environment. "In fact, if you do not have a sound environment, you do not have the ability to have a sustainable economy that will allow us to meet our challenges moving forward," she said. McCarthy also said the Toledo, Ohio, drinking-water crisis this summer was not a surprise but indicative of the challenges faced by cash-strapped water utilities. "This is what one would call a wake-up call. … Healthy environmental protection does not undermine a healthy economy; it underpins it."

A second report, published by the think tank Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, makes a number of recommendations to help utilities make transformational changes to address climate change and failing infrastructure.

George Hawkins, general manager for the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, said the report is "a great starting point" for water utilities to develop their own plans and agendas.

Sandra Ralston, president of the Water Environment Federation's board of trustees and vice president at Arcadis, said WEF has expanded its focus areas beyond wastewater to stormwater and resiliency.