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Cleaner water will be pricey, report says

Better wastewater treatment, changes in safety standards could cost up to $13.9 billion.

By Tammy Webber

January 28, 2003

Improving wastewater treatment and ensuring safe drinking water throughout Indiana could cost billions of dollars more than previously believed, according to a study released Monday.

The study -- conducted by researchers at the Center for Urban Policy and the Environment at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis -- estimates it would take $12.4 billion to $13.9 billion during the next 20 years to correct sewer overflow problems, meet federal drinking water standards and stem pollution from stormwater and failing septic systems in communities large and small.

That is 35 percent to 53 percent higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's previous estimate of $9.1 billion, study author Greg Lindsey, director of the IUPUI center, told the state Senate Environmental Affairs Committee. He said the EPA estimates did not include septic systems and stormwater controls.

The report provides a starting point for lawmakers to prioritize programs in a state that ranks poorly in some water quality measures, environmentalists said.

Indiana has among the highest releases of untreated sewage in the country because of combined sewer systems and has $2.6 million available for its drinking water program -- less than half of the almost $5.4 million spent by Wisconsin, the next-lowest fund in the Midwest.

"I think we've put off a lot of the really tough decisions," said Tom Neltner of Improving Kids' Environment. "What we are really talking about is a legacy of past policy problems. . . . We're finally paying for the long subsidy we've had for growth and failing to deal with the problems."

Among the study's cost estimates:

$5.5 billion is needed to correct combined sewer overflows in 106 Indiana communities where stormwater and sanitary sewage flow through the same pipes, then overflow into creeks, rivers and lakes during heavy rains. The estimate is based on controlling 85 percent of the overflows, which environmentalists say may be too low to make waterways safe for people to use.

$3.3 billion to $3.8 billion would be required for communities to upgrade systems to transfer waste to treatment plants and to treat the wastewater before it is discharged back into waterways.

$1.7 billion is needed to oversee treatment and distribution of drinking water. The state Department of Environmental Management oversees drinking water systems for municipalities, restaurants and other establishments.

$1.5 billion to $2.3 billion is needed to fix failing septic systems. It is estimated that almost one-third, or more than 700,000, of all Indiana households are on septic systems instead of sewers.

$500 million is necessary to comply with federal rules requiring municipalities to regulate stormwater discharges.

Indiana's state and local governments spent $3.1 billion, or about $253 million a year, on infrastructure for wastewater, drinking water and stormwater between 1990 and 2002. But spending would have to increase to $620 million to $695 million annually during the next 20 years to meet the needs identified in the study, Lindsey said.

The report does not recommend sources of funding. But John L. Krauss, director of the Indiana Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, which sponsored the study, said the state, local governments, private companies and residents all will have to help foot the bill if the needs are to be met.

The cash-strapped state, which faces an $850 million budget deficit, will have few options.

A $30 million fund, which awarded grants to municipalities to help buy down utility rates resulting from water system upgrades, has been eliminated, said Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, who heads the environment committee.

And an $80 million revolving loan program, which provides low-interest loans to help pay for wastewater and drinking water improvements, is underfunded, she said.

Gard said lawmakers will look at ways to beef up the loan program and empower local governments to raise money to help fund the improvements.

"Either way, without federal or state help, this ends up being reflected in higher utility bills for consumers," Gard said. "But . . . it's going to take everybody to get this done."

Call Star reporter Tammy Webber at 1-317-444-6212.



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