The city of Des Moines, Iowa is tackling a problem that is a reflection of what other cities are going through. Water utilities in De Moines are facing increased strains as water mains continue to crack open several times a year, rivers become more polluted, and the cost of upkeep continues to rise. 

Existing water systems that were built during World War II and earlier are in serious need of repair, but the cost to fix them has city officials across the country scrambling to find funds. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that $384 billion is needed, over the next 15 years, to fix these aging drinking water systems.

At stake is the continued availability of clean, cheap drinking water — a public health achievement that has fueled the nation’s growth for generations and that most Americans take for granted.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency projects that it will cost $384 billion over 20 years to maintain the nation’s existing drinking water systems, which will require tens of thousands of miles of replacement pipe and thousands of new or renovated plants. The American Water Works Association, an industry-backed group, puts the price even higher — $1 trillion to replace all outdated pipes and meet growth over the next quarter-century.

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