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
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,
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
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
• $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
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.