Sunday, February 10, 2019

In Upstate New York, Ulysses Grant-era water lines need replaced... but Republicans are giving tax breaks to the rich instead

Above: WPA workers constructing a reservoir in Loudonville, New York, May 1936. Today, the reservoir still provides millions of gallons of drinking water for New Yorkers. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A closer view of the lower left-hand portion of the photograph. Note the WPA work sign on the back of the power shovel.  During the New Deal, federally-funded WPA workers upgraded New York's infrastructure on a massive scale, for example, 1,224 miles of new water lines (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1947, p. 136). We could do the same today... if we stopped being wimps for the rich.

In today's edition of the Observer-Dispatch (Utica, New York), the editors express dismay over Upstate New York's deteriorating infrastructure. For example, many of the water lines in the Mohawk Valley Water Authority (MVWA) system are 150 years old, installed around 1869 (during the presidencies of Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant). These prehistoric water lines lose about half the water they carry between their origin and destination points. Water line breaks are common, of course, especially in cold weather. And the editors report that, at current pace, it will take 350 years to replace old MVWA lines. However, at the end of that 350 years, presumably, the first of those new lines will then be 350 years old. ("Our View: Upstate infrastructure must be a priority," Observer-Dispatch, February 10, 2019.)

The crumbling public works of Upstate New York are hardly unique; they are a common problem throughout the United States. Our water mains, pipes, and plumbing are old, children are drinking lead from them, they're breaking at a rate of about 240,000 times per year, and we lose about 2 trillion gallons of water annually.

A lot of American voters don't seem to care though. Instead of demanding more federal investment in our public works--to help places like Upstate New York--they just keep voting for politicians who keep giving tax breaks to the richest Americans. The Trump-GOP tax cuts for the rich, for example, facilitated an orgy of stock buybacks, bank profits, and wealth hoarding. It did nothing for our woeful infrastructure. As so, the super-rich keep adding to their record fortunes, while the rest of us keep trading the remaining & shrinking scraps back and forth, maintaining the delusional belief that we're actually getting somewhere - when, in fact, economic mobility has "declined substantially" since the 1970s; essentially, since right-wing trickle-down economics became the law of the land.

As long as a good chunk of the American electorate keeps putting the desires of the rich ahead of the needs of the public, there isn't much hope for the water lines of Upstate New York.

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