A New Year's Resolution for American Households: Prioritize our spending and understand the true value of what we're buying

12/21/2010 04:30 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A recent article in The Washington Post analyzed how an upper-class American family with a gross annual income of $250,000 spent their money. The article was accompanied by a chart listing the national average costs for goods for a family of four at that higher than average income level. I'd like to say that I was astonished with what Americans are willing to spend on non-essentials, but being that I've worked in the water industry for 20 years...I wasn't.

An annual bill for phone, cable and Internet is $2,400 while an annual bill for water and sewer (resources essential to life) is only $612. Annually, Americans spend less on water than they do on everything listed on that chart including expenses like entertainment (i.e. movies, sports), entertaining at home and drying cleaning. In fact, Americans at this wealthy income level, supposedly spend more on the family dog than they do for water and wastewater services!

Water is a public good and a necessity for life - including your dog's life. Access to clean water is also essential for economic development and a healthy environment. Americans have access to clean and affordable water twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, but we must remember water, and the servicing of that water, is not free nor should it be particularly cheap. Many people do not understand the value of the high quality water and the cost associated with getting that water to taps. We, as a country, simply take for granted that when we turn on the faucet, the water will be there, or when we flush the toilet that it will work everytime.

Sustainable water infrastructure, the basic physical and organizational pipe structures needed for the operation of our communities' water works, is necessary to ensure that Americans will continue to have access to high quality water no matter their annual income level. However, in many communities, even wealthy ones, the infrastructure that delivers clean water to our homes, workplaces, hospitals and schools is in a state of disrepair. We need capital investment in water infrastructure to improve the quality of our water and environment.

The truth is that even in a sour economy, most consumers have the monetary resources to spend a little more each month to upgrade their local water system, not just upgrade their cable sports packages. In fact, a Value of Water Survey conducted by ITT reported that 63 percent of American voters would be willing to pay more for high quality water service and delivery. But the willingness to charge the true cost - including repairs - of providing high quality water begins with local public officials. Consumers must permit their elected officials and state utility regulators to do the right thing and set community water rates to reflect a more accurate picture of the cost and value of high-quality service and reliable infrastructure. And if you already have a mayor in your town that's ready and willing to make these types of confident decisions on behalf of water sustainability, thank them with your vote next term, and nominate them to be recognized as a local water leader here.

So as part of our New Year's resolutions, let's all understand and accept the need to invest back into our local water systems - no matter if they're publicly or privately run, because what's more important than ensuring that all families have access to water in the new year, and in the years to come? Cheers to your good health.