Liquid Assets | The Story of Our Water Infrastructure

Synopsis and Themes

Documentary Synopsis

Liquid Assets, a ninety-minute documentary, tells the story of essential infrastructure systems: water, wastewater, and stormwater. These systems — some in the ground for more than 100 years — provide a critical public health function and are essential for economic development and growth. Largely out of sight and out of mind, these aging systems have not been maintained, and some estimates suggest this is the single largest public works endeavor in our nation’s history.

Steve Allbee“We have about 2 million miles of pipe in this nation. If you look at what we’re spending now and the investment requirements over the next twenty years, there’s a $540 billion difference.”

—Steve Allbee, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Exploring the history, engineering challenges, and political and economic realities in urban and rural locations, the documentary provides an understanding of the hidden assets that support our way of life. Locations featured in the documentary include Atlanta, Boston, Herminie (Pennsylvania), Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C.

Documentary Themes

The Fundamental Public Health System We Take for Granted

Essential to all life on earth, water is the provenance of civilization. Throughout history, thriving cities have had in common the presence of a water infrastructure. Much of the original American infrastructure, however, is still unchanged and in use today. This section will illuminate the integral role of water and wastewater infrastructures in our lives, offering a brief history of wastewater practices, in addition to accounts of the burdens placed on, and the neglect of, our current system.

A Watershed Protection Approach

To understand the risks of neglecting our buried assets, we need to understand our role in watersheds and hydrologic/geologic cycles. This section will follow the natural cycle of our water supply and address the health and environmental hazards that our cities face when industrial and residential districts unsustainably interface with the water cycle.

An Engineering Marvel—Seeing the Unseen

Simply considering the complexity of constructing a system serving a city the size of Philadelphia or Atlanta is daunting, but the task of restoring a broken system is even more so. With the help of 3-D imaging and dynamic animation, this section will visually expose America’s underground and explore, with engineers, the technical complexity of our national infrastructure.

21st Century Solutions

The preceding section will dovetail into this one, which will explore the innovative solutions being developed by engineers to address infrastructure rehabilitation needs. Buried asset management, robotic pipe inspections, engineering research, pipe restoration and replacement technologies—these concepts, along with the best practices from around the country, will be explored, revealing a portrait of 21st century technology, economics, and solutions.

The Challenge

Hundreds of billions of dollars are required to restore America’s infrastructure. This section will track how cities and regions are confronting infrastructure rehabilitation, both economically and politically.