Experts warn water systems are at ‘increasing risk’ due to aging infrastructure, climate events

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Each day, we rely on our water supply for everything from household needs to agricultural ones, like farming.

Now members of Congress are looking into potential threats to our water systems, including risks from climate events, aging infrastructure, and cyber-attacks.

“Access to clean water is critical to the overall health and economic security of a community,” said Rep. John Katko (R-NY) during a committee hearing about the issue on Wednesday.

Water system failures can have devastating impacts on the people who live and work nearby.

Residents in Jackson, Miss. recently experienced this firsthand after raging floods worsened problems at an already troubled water plant.

It temporarily left thousands of people without clean water.

There is now a class action lawsuit against the city.

“Residents could not use the water coming out of their faucets to brush their teeth, bathe or wash the dishes,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS). “The lack of water led to school and business closures and tens of millions of gallons of untreated wastewater flowed into Jackson area waterways.”

Jackson isn’t the only place at risk of a water crisis.

The former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) warned members of Congress that the threat extends from coast to coast.

“Many of our water treatment plants across the nation are at increasing risk in these extreme rainfall flood events because they were built for the last 100 years,” said W. Craig Fugate, former FEMA Administrator.

Fugate pointed to the extreme flooding in Nashville, TN in 2010 as an example.

More than 13 inches of rain were dumped onto the city.

A water treatment plant flooded and had to be temporarily shut down.

Fugate said it’s urgent to make sure water treatment systems are built to be climate resistant.

“You got to build for the future, not for the past,” said Fugate.

Water treatment officials also warned about the importance of having a strong cyber defense for our water systems to protect against hackers.

“Maintaining a strong cyber defense is just as much a part of our infrastructure as maintaining our pipes and filtration systems,” said David Gadis, CEO and General Manager of the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority.