Modernizing our Infrastructure

President's Message, July 2018

HERE IN OREGON, as is true in many states, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about our water infrastructure. With many transmission pipes and dams more than 100 years old, water managers are well aware that the state’s water infrastructure is degrading. Fortunately, we have avoided any major structural failures; now is the time to make strategic investments and policy improvements.

The need for modernizing public safety laws is significant. Last updated in 1929, Oregon’s dam safety laws refer to communicating with the public via “telegraph.” While quaint and slightly poetic, this language is sorely out of date. It is also noticeably silent with regard to modern engineering principles and current knowledge about the Cascadia subduction zone and other seismic dangers. The state will be proposing significant revisions to its dam safety laws during 2019.

Beyond policy, the planning and implementation of infrastructure maintenance is also necessary. Oregon’s 2017 Integrated Water Resources Strategy calls for an asset management approach, with systematic maintenance and replacement in order to minimize costs over the life of the infrastructure, while providing adequate service to customers. However, many water providers—particularly those without a strong rate base—are poorly positioned to stay on top of infrastructure maintenance. These shortfalls have led us to where we are right now—states and localities with too much deferred maintenance and the potential for real disaster.

As we know, water resource issues are interrelated with many others, and this is true when thinking about water infrastructure as well. At AWRA’s “GIS and Water Resources X” spring specialty conference in Orlando, a couple of posters caught my eye because they argued that in addition to water-specific infrastructure, other types of infrastructure such as underground tanks for storing chemicals, gasoline, nuclear waste and human waste are also reaching the end of useful life. This has implications for our water resources, as leakage from these deteriorating structures is increasingly taking a toll on surface water and groundwater quality and human health.

At the national level, AWRA is working hard to thoughtfully position its members in the infrastructure financing conversation. With two policy statements focused on infrastructure, the AWRA Board of Directors has noted the importance of developing a long-term approach to infrastructure investment. The Board also notes a tremendous opportunity to re-think the placement and purpose of infrastructure during its refurbishment, thus helping to improve overall outcomes.

The policy statements encourage “project proponents, funders and permitting agencies to design for multiple objectives, engage the full range of beneficiaries and stakeholders, and explore alternative approaches and configurations that can maximize the overall benefits to society.” (See Aug. 22, 2017 AWRA Policy Statements). If public and private groups manage to increase their investments in infrastructure, there may be a window of opportunity to make outcome improvements at a much larger scale.

July IMPACT CoverAWRA’s own technology infrastructure is undergoing a remodel of its own. With a new website scheduled for public unveiling in late summer, the association is designing its new online space with text that is easier to read, a layout that is simple to navigate and updated content with less clutter. Along with this comes a new platform called “Open Water” for submitting conference abstracts with greater ease. It will enable AWRA to move abstracts and information from your fingertips straight to the conference program. Finally, we are excited about the continued growth in our online workspace for sharing your own posts and hosting discussions. Please visit to contribute your personal stories about the infrastructure challenges we face today and the possible solutions you see in the future.

Brenda O. Bateman can be reached at


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State Water Plans Report