Clean Water Means Jobs

Clean water infrastructure investment promotes a healthy economy. Restoring natural waterways and reservoirs, reducing pollution and stormwater runoff, and preventing contamination are all essential actions to improve public well-being, keeping workers healthy and productive. Completion of clean water projects fosters new jobs, augments productivity by maintaining a healthy workforce, and improves economic activity in the long run.

A new report (PDF) conducted jointly by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign finds Illinois’ investments in clean water initiatives enhance economic activity and support a “high road” economy with good, clean jobs.

Clean water infrastructure is a win-win-win for Illinois.

  1. Clean water infrastructure projects are a win for the blue-collar construction workers and the employees of water-related facilities, for whom middle-class employment opportunities are provided. Employment in the water infrastructure sector increases an average worker’s hourly earnings by 10 percent in Illinois as depicted below.

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  1. Clean water infrastructure projects improve environmental quality and help household and businesses run more efficiently. Improvements in water infrastructure mean fewer disruptions in daily life and business activity from flooding, sewer breaks, leaks, and contaminated water supplies.
  2. The effects of a better environment with more jobs ripple into other sectors of the economy, which is a win for employers and for other workers who are not directly impacted by the investments. For every $1 billion invested in clean water infrastructure in the Chicago area, approximately 11,200 total jobs are saved or created on average. The average blue-collar construction worker in water infrastructure adds $162.92 per hour to Illinois’ gross domestic product. Clearly, these jobs provide a positive return on investment for the state.

Nowhere are the economic and employment benefits of clean water more apparent than in the Chicago area. In 2014, investments by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and the City of Chicago Department of Water Management generated thousands of jobs. These expenditures improved the quality of Chicago area water, increasing worker productivity by improving regional health, and prevented flood and other water damage.

  1. Operations and construction expenditures by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago saved or created 13,200 total jobs– including 7,400 direct construction, water, and sewage jobs– and boosted the regional economy by $1.3 billion.
  2. Operations and construction expenditures by the Chicago Department of Water Management saved or created 6,300 total jobs– including 3,300 direct construction, water, and sewage jobs– and boosted the regional economy by $600 million.

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Despite major progress that has been made over the past few decades, Illinois is still under-investing in clean water projects. Much of the state’s clean water infrastructure needs repairs and upgrades, and the required investments will only become more expensive the longer they are delayed. Each of the following opportunities for future investment in Illinois would improve water quality, create “high road” local jobs, and support the Illinois economy:

  1. Nutrient removal: The recently-released Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy calls for a 45 percent overall reduction in the amount of phosphorous and nitrate-nitrogen leaving the state to reduce the occurrence of algae blooms in water bodies within the state and in the Gulf of Mexico.
  2. Green infrastructure projects: Green infrastructure provides many environmental and community benefits while creating local construction jobs and reducing flooding. Initiatives like the Space to Grow program, which transforms Chicago schoolyards into green spaces with landscape features that capture rainfall, demonstrate the widespread benefits produced by green infrastructure investments.
  3. Reducing combined sewer overflows (CSOs): Municipalities throughout Illinois need to implement plans to reduce CSOs from their sewer systems and improve water quality in their area.
  4. Dam removal: Rivers throughout the state would benefit from removing dams that no longer serve their original purpose.
  5. Invasive species control: Solutions to reduce the risk of aquatic invasive specie (AIS) entering Illinois’ freshwaters can be combined with efforts to reduce flooding and improve water quality.
  6. Continuing the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI): In its first five years, the GLRI has supported numerous on-the-ground restoration projects on Illinois’ Lake Michigan shoreline. These investments should be continued.

A sustainable system of clean water distribution and treatment is necessary for long-term economic growth. By reducing pollution and stormwater runoff, preventing contamination, restoring natural waterways, reducing the potential for flood damage, and mitigating the potential impacts of climate change, clean water infrastructure ensures that the economy flows smoothly. Construction of clean water projects creates jobs and stimulates economy in the short run, while completion of clean water projects fosters new jobs, augments productivity by maintaining a healthy workforce, and improves economic activity in the long run.

Ultimately, clean water infrastructure investments enhance economic activity and support a “high road” economy with good, clean jobs.

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