When people ask me about what we need to do to save water, I generally tell them about how they can save water in their homes or businesses. Changing how they choose to use water, along with upgrading their plumbing fixtures with ones that carry the EPA’s WaterSense label can make a big impact.

What most people don’t know is that here in the United States, nearly one-sixth of the clean drinking water we make each day is lost through leaks in the pipes that carry it from the water utility to our homes. That means that each week, we lose one day’s worth of water, or about 40 billion gallons! And on the other side, many of our sewers also leak, which either allows sewage to seep into the ground or groundwater to enter, thus increasing the demand on wastewater treatment plants.

Part of the problem is that our infrastructure needs continuous upkeep and maintenance. Infrastructure refers to all of the common assets of the built enviroment that are necessary for modern society: Roads, bridges, airports, schools and other public buildings, parks,  phone/broadband systems, and water and sewer systems. A recent study gave America a grade of “D-” for the condition of our infrastructure, with an estimated repair bill of $20 trillion over the next 40 years. For water/sewer alone, it’s estimated that we need to spend $1 trillion between now and 2035 just to fix what we have.

I’m getting a first-hand look at water infrastructure repair right in my neighborhood. My city is spending nearly $15 million to replace sewer mains to keep water from backing up into people’s basements during heavy rains. The main lines are 10 feet in diameter. Several streets were completely dug up all summer, and the work is still going on.

Why does this matter? Because leaky mains waste more water every day than we can possibly save with water-efficient plumbing products. Repairing or replacing those mains is a critical part of any effort to stretch our water supplies.

Clean drinking water, plumbed directly into our kitchens and bathrooms, is a luxury we take for granted.  But it’s not cheap.  So when your water bill goes up, or your city starts digging up streets, remember that all the cost and inconvenience is an investment that will benefit our families, our communities and the environment for decades.