The last decade has seen a dramatic increase in investment in railways, roads, energy projects, and ports in the developing world, aiming to address a significant “infrastructure gap.” Much attention has focused on China’s Belt and Road Initiative as the largest and most visible investor in the developing world, but many international finance organizations and other countries—especially Japan and Korea—have also been making substantial infrastructure investments. Planned infrastructure expansion is expected to span multiple continents and ocean basins and will potentially interact with a wide variety of sensitive terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems. While infrastructure is fundamental to economic development, historically large-scale infrastructure projects have had unintended negative impacts on the environment and local communities.
Infrastructure is also a central issue in the United States. Much of the country’s infrastructure—drinking water, wastewater treatment, reservoirs, oil and gas pipelines, roads, and more—is aging; much is past its expected lifetime. This infrastructure must be updated to adapt to changing climate conditions and population shifts. The Nicholas Institute is studying how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is operating its reservoirs, which much of the country relies on for hydropower, water supply, and flood protection. The Internet of Water project is also building a network of open, shared, and integrated water data and information to help federal, state, and local agencies make sustainable water resource management decisions.