ILEPI Testimony on Investing in Water Infrastructure

On Thursday, March 21, the Illinois House Appropriations-Capital Committee held a subject matter hearing on including agricultural, natural resources, and environmental investments in a potential capital bill. Frank Manzo IV, MPP, Policy Director of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) submitted a written testimony. Here is the testimony.

Please CLICK HERE to read a full version of the testimony.

Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee. My name is Frank Manzo IV. I am the Policy Director of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit research organization that provides candid and dynamic analyses on major subjects affecting the Illinois economy. We specialize in the construction industry.

Critical investments are needed in Illinois’ drinking water and wastewater infrastructure systems. While most of our community systems safely service over 12 million people in Illinois, more than 200,000 residents are at risk of water pollution, toxins, and diseases due to aging infrastructure. This is double the amount of people who were affected by the Flint water crisis. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives Illinois’ drinking water infrastructure a C- grade and estimates that maintaining the state’s drinking water systems through 2030 will require over $21 billion.

The American Society of Civil Engineers also gives Illinois’ wastewater infrastructure a C- grade. Illinois has more than 800 wastewater facilities, but many of them were built decades ago. In these areas, sewage often overflows into our rivers and lakes during storms. And this is only exacerbated by climate change, with the average temperature having risen by 4.5 degrees over the past three decades. This has increased the number of days with heavy rain and resulted in more flood events across the state. In total, Illinois has over $6 billion in these water quality needs.

Academic research demonstrates that clean water investments positively impact both the environment and public health. They ensure that water is safe for consumption, reduce pollutants and contaminants, and minimize sewage overflow events. They also help preserve natural environments such as forests and wetlands. Investments in water systems lower costs and save lives.

In addition, research convincingly demonstrates that clean water infrastructure investments support local businesses. Illinois’ farmers require clean water to irrigate crops and feed livestock, brewers rely on it to craft a perfect drink, and the manufacturing sector uses large volumes in production and cooling. As a result, for every dollar invested in water infrastructure, the economy improves by about $1.60.

In a 2016 study that I co-authored with Professor Robert Bruno from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, we concluded that clean water infrastructure investments boost the economy and promote middle-class careers in our state. The workers who build and operate water infrastructure are employed in a variety of professions. However, nearly half of all jobs related to water infrastructure are in the skilled construction trades… mainly as laborers, plumbers, pipefitters, and operating engineers.

Construction of water infrastructure provides a pathway into the middle-class for these blue-collar workers. Employment in the water infrastructure sector boosts a worker’s income by about 10 percent, on average, compared to similar workers. This is primarily due to their high levels of productivity. Census data reveal that the average worker in the water infrastructure sector contributes more than $160 per hour to the Illinois economy.

Investing in water infrastructure has ripple effects across the state’s economy. Every $1 billion invested in water infrastructure creates or saves at least 11,000 jobs, including about 6,000 direct construction and treatment jobs. And the World Health Organization reports that clean water systems improve worker productivity by reducing sick days– keeping employees healthy and on the job.

Despite major progress that has been made over the past few decades, Illinois is still underinvesting in water infrastructure. By reducing pollution, combatting floods, mitigating stormwater runoff, restoring natural waterways, and upgrading systems to meet current demands and climate realities, additional funding for clean water capital projects would promote a healthy, growing economy.

High-quality water systems are key to our quality of life and foster a strong economy with broad-based prosperity for all families, businesses, and workers. It is time for lawmakers to address funding shortfalls so that all current, and future, Illinois residents can count on dependable, efficient, and safe infrastructure that serves their needs.

I thank you for allowing me the opportunity to submit my testimony.

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