Clean Water Costs
Posted 6/17/2009 -- The Baltimore City Paper
Baltimore, like many U.S. cities, faces the daunting challenge of
maintaining a sewer system that is more than 100 years old in some
parts of town ("The Reek Goes On," Mobtown Beat, June 10). No one
likes the sight and smell of polluted water, and cleaning up our
precious waterways is not just about public health and the
environment, but about economic prosperity. The problem of aging
infrastructure in our cities is compounded by a growing population,
a decline in federal funding to help pay for infrastructure
improvements, new regulatory requirements, and the threat of climate
change, which could mean more storms and more water in an already
overburdened system. Ratepayers in Baltimore, as in most U.S.
cities, will foot most of the bill to upgrade its vast network of
pipes and other infrastructure to prepare for these challenges. The
National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) views the $4
billion in federal stimulus funding for clean water, of which
Maryland received its $122 million share, as an important first
step. While this amount helps, it simply is not enough.
Right now, the United States faces a water and wastewater
infrastructure-funding CRISIS. The Environmental Protection Agency,
the Government Accountability Office, the Water Infrastructure
Network, and others estimate a wastewater funding gap of $350
billion to $500 billion over the next 20 years. Consider this: The
federal government covered 78 percent of the cost to finance
wastewater infrastructure in the 1970s; and now, less than 5
percent--a drop in the storm drain, as it were. The amount cities
pay--about $70 billion annually--for their water and wastewater
needs is second only to their education costs, according to the U.S.
To help address the funding problem, NACWA and others support a
clean water trust fund, financed broadly by fees potentially on such
things as bottled beverages, flushable products, pesticides and
agricultural chemicals, and pharmaceuticals, providing about $10
billion annually to help cities cover the staggering cost of meeting
their water quality objectives. Even with this additional funding,
ratepayers will still cover the lion's share of clean water costs.
We hope to see a bill introduced soon in Congress that would create
such a trust fund. We have trust funds for airports and highways.
Why not create one to ensure we have clean water? Without
significant federal assistance, the reek will go on.
Executive director, National Association of Clean Water Agencies