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Water: Sustainable Infrastructure

What Sustainable Water Infrastructure Looks Like

What does "sustainable" mean?

You can find a definition for water infrastructure on our Facts about Sustainable Water Infrastructure page. But what makes that infrastructure sustainable?

The 1987 Bruntland report from the World Commission on Environment and Development defined sustainability as, "meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs." Applied to infrastructure, sustainable means having an active and effective program for renewal and replacement of components at a rate that allows for that infrastructure to continually serve our communities into the future. Achieving sustainability requires the establishment of a long-term plan to gradually and continually replace all infrastructure assets—a plan that ensures wise spending practices and a stable revenue stream for continuous support of needed future investments.

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Cost Revenue Gap Graph

What does sustainable water infrastructure look like for my community?

The path to sustainability is the same for your community as it is for the nation and has two basic elements: 
  • Costs that include infrastructure replacement and operations, and
  • The revenue stream to support those costs.

Because of under-investment in the past, many communities have a gap between costs and revenues that can only be closed by pressure on those two variables. Strategies must be developed which lower the long-term costs or raise revenues to meet those costs. For most communities, the solution will lie in both, with the control of costs limited by the opportunities for efficiency and the raising of revenues limited by how much the members of a community can afford to pay.Cost Revenue Gap Chart

For specific steps you can take to make sustainable water infrastructure a part of your legacy, visit our Five Things You Can Do pages.


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What can I do to help ensure that the infrastructure in my community is being managed effectively?

Managing today's utilities is a complex and challenging endeavor. Across the water sector, there are numerous programs to help utilities manage various aspects of their operations. In an effort to develop a common framework for utility management, the EPA and six major professional associations in the water sector have come together to define and promote an approach through the Effective Utility Management (EUM) partnership. Based on the experiences and recommendations of leading utility managers from across the nation, EUM is built around Ten Attributes of Effectively Managed Water Sector UtilitiesExit EPA Disclaimer , which provide a structured, 360-degree framework for assessing utility operations and tackling the areas most important to improving utility-wide performance and efficiency.

While these associations have enthusiastically endorsed the EUM framework and the Ten Attributes, they were actually developed by utilities for utilities. They are based on improvement initiatives that many utility managers have already implemented to save money for their communities, help keep rates at affordable levels, and help improve their economic competitiveness. In addition, these utilities have also been able to improve their environmental performance by using the Effective Utility Management approach.

EPA and our industry partners are working together to spread the news about these best practices to policymakers and utility managers nationwide so that their successful outcomes can be realized in as many communities, and for as many ratepayers, as possible. Along with the Attributes, EPA and our industry partners have developed the EUM Primer, which helps utilities do a self-assessment of their strengths and areas for improvement based on the Attributes and set priorities for improving performance based on their needs and those of the communities they serve.

Download a short Effective Utility Management for Local Officials (PDF) (2pp, 980K, About PDF) summary that includes questions local officials can ask to spur greater sustainability. The EUM Primer (52pp, 4M, About PDF) provides a springing off point for a utility to get started.

We also encourage you to share this information with your utilities and ask them to do a self-assessment based on the primer. For more information on EUM, visit or direct your utility managers to EPA's Effective Water Utility Management page.

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