By Mayor Walter Allen, President
League of Cities, African-American Caucus
Communities across California and throughout the country are facing a pressing need to address water infrastructure. Water infrastructure protects public health and the environment, but in many cases it is aging and crumbling, while federal funding for these projects becomes ever more scarce.
Repairing or building new water infrastructure projects is an expensive undertaking. Small communities, in particular, struggle to find the funds to invest in necessary water improvements that ensure their citizens have access to clean drinking water and that wastewater is safely treated to protect streams and groundwater. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, California has $44.5 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs and $29.9 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs over the next 20 years.
Having represented an area with a number of significant water projects underway and more scheduled in the years to come, I encourage Congress to consider smart ways to more efficiently invest in water infrastructure while ensuring that we do so without making sacrifices in terms of quality or safety. One area worth consideration is examining how government-funded projects select their materials.
Many communities across the country are currently weighed down with outdated procurement policies that restrict material selection, which unnecessarily increases the costs for public works projects and takes innovative solutions off the table. A Progressive Policy Institute report found that municipalities that don’t permit open competition are spending between 27% and 34% more than those that do. The Brookings Institute published a report in July 2018 estimating that the total cost savings from open competition policies could be as much as $371 billion to taxpayers nationwide. And the United States Conference of Mayors just released a report showing that the country could save an estimated $20.5 billion for drinking water and $22.3 billion for storm water in pipe material costs alone.
If closed procurement processes are acting as cost drivers and, therefore, are standing in the way of progress on water infrastructure projects, it is worth supporting new procurement policies that allow for open competition in the bidding process for project materials and would help communities stretch limited resources without compromising performance or safety standards (or other important procurement considerations such as supporting women- and minority-owned business enterprises).
I encourage my fellow elected leaders at the local, state and national level to support polices that will help accelerate critical updates to our country’s water infrastructure.