Remember that line from Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups ads long ago? Some might think analogously about public infrastructure, like roads and bridges, and water infrastructure. I would argue the opposite.

This week, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez helped cut the ribbon to open a new 6-mile highway connecting a new $400 Million rail facility outside of Las Cruces with a nearby major commercial highway. The new road will allow economic expansion by facilitating commerce through intermodal transportation. In the same article announcing the opening of the road, the Las Cruces Sun-News also reported that the New Mexico announced additional funding for water infrastructure projects in the Las Cruces area.

What do the opening of a new road and the announcement of water infrastructure project funding have anything to do with each other? Plenty.

In Session 2 of The Water Values Podcast, Jack Wittman discussed water planning. In that context, he addressed the relationship between water infrastructure and other public infrastructure. In a nutshell, his point was that public infrastructure bears a significant relationship to water infrastructure.

Take the example of a highway. The highway facilitates transportation. And there is a significant element of economic development in facilitating that transportation. A highway could open up a new, faster route to a destination. It could allow more goods to be shipped to that destination. There will also be service providers along the route (even with a 6-mile road, there could be significant economic activity along that corridor). All of these contribute to a growing economy.

Wittman also explained the same is true in reverse. If a water utility invests in infrastructure but the economic growth to pay for the infrastructure never arrives, then the utility’s customers or shareholders, depending on the ownership of the utility, will shoulder the burden of paying for the oversized, unused infrastructure.

The investment of public money in infrastructure aims to produce economic activity. (Taxpayers should see a return on their “investment”). That economic activity needs water and sewer infrastructure to even begin. Without those basic services, economic growth will be severely stunted.

Whenever a community invests in public infrastructure, the community should ensure that it coordinates with the water and sewer utility to ensure adequate water supplies and infrastructure are available or can be sourced or constructed. This applies to both new public infrastructure projects and replacement or redevelopment of existing public infrastructure. It could be a costly mistake to invest the public’s money only later to discover that the anticipated growth either cannot occur or is significantly delayed because of insufficient water resources or infrastructure.

Just like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups mixes chocolate and peanut butter to create a great combination, it’s best to coordinate a community’s public infrastructure and its water infrastructure to produce the best possible results for the community. Make sure your community coordinates its water infrastructure with its other public infrastructure!