I have grown passionate about improving America’s infrastructure for several reasons:  my personal migration to the U.S. more than seven years ago; my more than 35 years experience in the building products industry; leading a North American building products team for seven year; and being a father as well as a resident of this great country.

The U.S. is growing faster than any other industrialized nation. Population is expected to reach 400 million by 2039, four years earlier than previous projections, according to the newest U.S. Census Bureau report.  Will our nation’s infrastructure be ready to handle almost 100 million more residents in about 30 years? 

The nation’s infrastructure systems are still recovering and being upgraded from the doubling of the population since 1950, therefore, we need to consider right now about how we will accommodate 100 million more people so quickly.  Think about the evolution of our homes and vehicles in the past 50 years to accommodate our changing lifestyles – our infrastructure needs to be treated the same way.

Richard Manning

Numerous studies by agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Congressional Budget Office and the Water Infrastructure Network, estimate hundreds of billions of dollars are needed over the next 20 years for our infrastructure systems to be adequate for the current population. 

Not only do we need enough space and adequate transportation infrastructure, most importantly, we need access to water.  Water is a basic necessity of life – second only to oxygen.  Water is also in growing demand due to our increased energy needs.  Our water infrastructure systems are failing because of their age and over use and must expand to accommodate growing and migrating population. There is a potential for the population of the U.S. to reach the one billion mark this century.

Currently more than 50 percent of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of a coast – or on 17 percent of the available land – according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. An additional 27 million people, accounting for the projected population increase, are expected to move to the coastal areas in the next 15 years.  Can our delicate water systems in these high-risk weather areas handle the boom?  Additionally, the South and the West are the most populated and fastest growing regions.  Most of these states are among the driest in the nation. 

The $700 billion bailout of financial institutions is expected to have a significant impact on proposed federal infrastructure funding.  Our nation’s needs for clean water transmission are growing while the likelihood of adequate federal funding is rapidly decreasing.  Currently, there is federal funding available to states; however, states have the responsibility for water allocation and management, as well as water quality protection. Growth management and maintenance is primarily a local responsibility and decisions about where and how to grow are generally not influenced by water policy or availability.  Local governments contribute about 95 percent of costs for water system expansion and maintenance, a large portion to meet federal regulations, according to the National Association of Clean Water Agencies. 

As a society we’ve grown accustom to a fast-paced lifestyle full of instantaneous solutions.  Unfortunately, repairing and expanding a water infrastructure system cannot be done quickly – we need to fund the project, plan and execute.  With more than 200 million miles of pipelines across the U.S., this will take a while.  Without significant consideration now of where and how we will get clean drinking water and water for increasing energy demands, we may not be able to sustain our quality of life while supporting a growing and migrating population.

Richard Manning is the president of Hanson Building Products North America, Las Colinas, Texas.
He can be reached at Richard.manning@hanson.com or 972-653-5500.