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By Sara Chen

After its last “C+” rating in 2010, Orange County again received a “C+” rating on infrastructure from the OC branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the UCI Civil and Environmental Engineering Affiliates from the Henry Samueli School of Engineering. The lowest score on Orange County’s July 21 report card was a “D+” in surface water quality, while the highest score was an “A” in aviation due to the excellent condition and efficiency of John Wayne Airport.

The score remains unchanged from the previous two given, but suggests signs of stagnation in the infrastructure quality of Orange County. While the “C+” is a whole letter grade higher than the national “D+” average, much of this higher score is attributed to Orange County’s newer infrastructure in general. Of particular concern in the report was South County, where some of the infrastructure is over fifty years old. The report suggested that it be upgraded promptly, to “prevent an Orange County infrastructure meltdown.”

The “D+” score in surface water quality infrastructure is an improvement from 2010’s “D” rating, but the infrastructure in this area still requires improvement. This score increase is not attributed to the county’s improvement as a whole, but to the fact that the previous scores were based on dry weather conditions. In wet weather, the report says that “during even moderate sized rain events, the volume of stormwater runoff…quickly overwhelms the capacity of existing…infrastructure.” Additionally, the increase in landscape surfaces like asphalt prevent water from properly draining, while also increasing runoff and pollutants. Flood risks are also heightened because of this.

The authors of the report referred to water as “…too precious a resource” to manage in traditional silos, and suggested that a more efficient way of managing water is sorely needed for OC’s population of nearly 23 million. Not including the money required to research and fund the creation of this new management, merely bringing bacteria and zinc levels in water down to safe levels could cost anywhere between $1.6 to $2.1 billion.

Annual investment costs in the report for Orange County as a whole are expected to top $3 billion per year for the next ten years. Since infrastructure is a public asset, a portion of this burden falls onto general tax revenues. Despite the staggering cost, there is some good news: This year, the personal tax income collected by Orange County is expected to exceed last year’s expectations by roughly $3.6 billion.

Many of the huge costs were due to a lack of continual maintenance, and costs being continually deferred in the wake of the recession. Lack of funding for infrastructure only exacerbates both the costs and the issues involved. As voters with the power to provide or deny funding for infrastructure, the report encourages Orange County citizens to remain informed on infrastructure and participate in their local governments on such issues.

“Our public works are public assets,” the report reads. “We all have a stake in their upkeep and operation, and we all share in the expense of construction and maintenance.”

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