What gives high-ranking government officials hope for the future? If it’s Vice President Joe Biden, it’s water infrastructure and eagles.
“It’s a really good omen,” Biden said after being told a bald eagle soared over his appearance Friday at DC Water’s Anacostia River Tunnel site in Southeast. “Off to my right there was a bald eagle flying. In a sense, that’s what this is all about.”
Biden joined DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to announce the launch of a new federal program to fund municipal water upgrades like the District’s $2.6 billion Clean Rivers Project. McCarthy said the EPA’s new Water Finance Center will serve in part as a resource for cities to innovate financing solutions for water infrastructure through public-private partnerships.
“This center is going to help communities improve water and waste water systems and build resilience in the face of a changing climate,” she said.
Aging water infrastructure is a problem both nationally and locally. McCarthy said the country needs to spend at least $600 billion over the next 20 years to upgrade and maintain its pipes. In DC, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates the city needs about $1.6 billion in fixes to its drinking-water infrastructure and $2.5 billion in improvements to its sewer system.
McCarthy offered an “I love you,” to DC Water, which is creating a massive new water tunnel beneath the city. Today’s event was held in the shadow of “Nannie,” a 26-foot wide, 350-foot long, 1,248-ton boring machine that is about to embark on digging a 2.5-mile portion of a 13-mile network to capture storm water that would otherwise flow into—and pollute—the city’s natural waterways.
The current system spews billions of gallons of overflow sewage into Rock Creek and the Anacostia and Potomac rivers on a yearly basis. That nasty runoff then finds its way into the Chesapeake, creating all types of problems for water and the creatures living in it. But at least, according to Biden, we’re not Detroit—the Motor City has wooden pipes.
According to the vice president, the United States now ranks 26th in the world in modernity of infrastructure. Rising above that will be based on “the grit of the American people.” In the past, he said, “our success has been built on the backs of the women and men that build the infrastructure.”
Find Emma Foehringer Merchant on Twitter at @emmafmerchant.