With a background in civil engineering, I’m partial to infrastructure. I find bridges absolutely fascinating. I also know that the US is far behind in funding necessary improvements to existing infrastructure, from bridges and highways to water and wastewater treatment. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our infrastructure a D, with water and wastewater treatment getting D minuses. Yikes. I’m holding out for a miracle of stimulus to bring our facilities up to par, but there’s a country we might look to for guidance: China (gulp).
China has been investing tons of money in infrastructure, from building a vast highway network in anticipation of cars to use it, to top-of-the-line subways and airports. But they’re falling short of goals to deliver safe drinking water to all residents. About one in five Chinese residents must boil his/her tap water before use, and that doesn’t include the safety issues from metals and organic chemicals in the water. Some city planners have complained that water treatment facilities are too expensive. Welcome to the first world, China, where we’re still trying to sort out that very issue…(see above ASCE grade and our lack of funding to address that grade).
A recent rainstorm killed 37 people due to flooding in Beijing, and it left some wondering whether key infrastructure has been neglected in the nation’s recent great leap of progress. Homes collapsed, streets flooded, and power lines fell.
The city has seen tens of billions of dollars poured into its modernization, including iconic venues for the 2008 Olympics, the world’s second-largest airport, new subway lines and dazzling skyscrapers — all while basics like water drainage were apparently neglected.
Has China given us an example of a “bad” stimulus? Or perhaps just a lesson in risk assessment and investment protection — in order to preserve those new buildings and roads and bridges long enough to truly pay off, basic water management infrastructure is a requirement, too. I hope that the US will learn from this sad example.