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Water Woes / A Federal Plan Would Jump-Start the Cleanup

Aug 14, 2006 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The $3 billion tab for upgrading the sewer lines of Alcosan and the 83 communities it serves may not fall entirely on the customers. That's a relief, especially since this infrastructure crisis exists in many parts of the nation and the overhaul has been triggered by tougher federal water standards.

That makes it perfectly understandable why the U. S. House of Representatives is considering the Clean Water Trust Act, which would provide $7. 5 billion annually to cover $300 billion to $500 billion in costs over two decades to repair or replace leaky, outmoded sewerage systems around the country.

Pennsylvania alone needs $8 billion to fix its problem, with the Allegheny County work accounting for more than a third.

Without the sewer-line repairs, rainwater infiltrates the cracked and creaky system, forcing a system like Alcosan to treat 25 million gallons of wastewater each day, twice as much as is recorded on sewer bills. Until that problem is eradicated, the region is likely to face undesirable consequences: federal fines, more river alerts due to sewer overflows and bans on new development.

Fortunately, three Republican members of Pennsylvania's congressional delegation spoke out last week on behalf of House Bill 4560, saying it was needed in this region and others around the country. Reps. Phil English of Erie, Melissa Hart of Bradford Woods and Tim Murphy of Upper St. Clair made a case for the Clean Water Trust Act, which would make aid from Washington a key ingredient in the nationwide overhaul.

No one expects the federal government to bail out local communities and, as Rep. English said, even state and local resources will have to be tapped to accomplish the repairs. Nevertheless, federal dollars are essential to getting the work started and the environmental cleanup done. The plan deserves strong bipartisan support.

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