When you hear the word “infrastructure,” what do you think?
Probably roads, bridges, dams, sewer systems, power grids… man-made and machine-driven, the industrial veins and arteries that keep this country moving and its economy alive.
But what about our natural infrastructure? Those aspects of nature that play as much (or more) of a role in making our lives possible? We often forget the benefits of healthy forests, estuaries, coastlines, wetlands and their contribution to the health of our ecology and economy?
If a road falls into disrepair, it is less able to safely carry the cars, trucks and tankers essential to moving people and goods around our country. But if a waterway or harbor becomes unnavigable due to neglect, how will the goods that need to pass through those make their way?
When a water or sewer system falters, unable to safely deliver potable water or remove waste, the public health crisis is clear. But is there no less of a crisis when a forest is destroyed – and with it the capacity to capture tons of carbon? Or when a wetland is drained, removing its ability to filter polluted surface water before it returns to the sea?
When dams deteriorate or floodgates fail, allowing waters to rush downstream or wash inland uncontrolled, the threat to public safety is dire. But is it no less dire when the lack of high coastal dunes, nearshore oyster beds or mangrove forests, and bayside marshes or buffers allow storm waves and waters to threaten coastal property and habitat?
There is a growing recognition that natural infrastructure plays a vital role in our economic and environmental well-being, equal to or even greater than that of man-made infrastructure. With this comes an understanding that any infrastructure – natural or man-made – must be maintained to be effective.
And there is the stark realization that this country has done a pretty poor job of maintaining all its infrastructure (natural and man-made alike) in the past few decades – and the cost of this lack of maintenance is increasing, both in dollars wasted and loss of quality of life. The bill for all this is coming due very soon.
Focusing on the coast for now, what does this mean?
The price of taking our infrastructure – natural and man-made – for granted is starting to come into focus. But undoing years of neglect will not happen overnight. Essential to any success in restoring and renewing our infrastructure will be:
Seeing infrastructure as more than bricks-and-mortar undertakings is a crucial first step. This can help communities acknowledge its natural assets and begin to plan to effectively maintain them and (as necessary) restore them. Recognizing their value in your local economy and ecology is critical to then devoting the community resources needed to keep them (and your community) healthy.
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ABOUT ASBPA: Founded in 1926, the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that advocates for healthy coastlines by promoting the integration of science, policies and actions that maintain, protect and enhance the coasts of America. For more information on ASBPA, go to www.asbpa.org, Facebook or www.twitter.com/asbpa. For information, to change your email address or to unsubscribe from this list, contact us at email@example.com. A complete collection of Beach News Service articles is available for media access online at. http://asbpa.org/publications/american-beach-news-service/