The EPA’s 2011 Report to Congress on the Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment, which estimated infrastructure capital needs of $384.2 billion over the next 20 years, includes a short line that has stuck with me all summer: “It is difficult to predict future needs.” 
Predicting the future in any context is difficult—if not impossible—and state agencies attempting to estimate statewide water/wastewater infrastructure needs must wrestle with some rather unique challenges. One of the challenges is a lack of consistent, long-term capital planning among water systems across the state. Water systems that do not practice asset management planning or have Capital Improvement Plans (CIPs) cannot predict the level of infrastructure investment they need in order to operate beyond the short lifetimes of their existing infrastructure assets.
This blog post provides a brief summary of how policy-makers in Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky have addressed this issue by incorporating water system capital planning into the application requirements for water infrastructure funding programs. In some cases, this approach has enabled the development of sophisticated systems for tracking infrastructure needs at the local and state levels. No solution is perfect, but it is clear that taking steps to encourage even basic planning across all water systems can improve financial, environmental, and public health outcomes.