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Wichita Eagle (KS)

Friday, March 29, 2002


BY MICHAEL KILIAN, Chicago Tribune

THE WICHITA EAGLE News Extra/Environment

WASHINGTON - Threats to water quality and quantity pose the greatest environmental challenge to the United States, in large part because of climate change and antiquated and deteriorating water systems, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman warned Wednesday.

She said many major cities are distributing water through pipes more than a century old.

Speaking to reporters at a breakfast meeting, Whitman said she has asked for congressional hearings this spring to help determine the extent of the water shortage and pollution control problems and the cost of solving them.

"Water is going to be the biggest environmental issue that we face in the 21st century, in terms of both quantity and quality," she said. "Look (at drought problems) around the United States and around the world. Look at the Mideast, where there's a severe drought going on. Clean water is a major problem in Afghanistan. We have a million children dying every year from waterborne diseases that are entirely preventable."

Several studies over the past year support Whitman's concern about water.

The most recent report, released last month by the Harvard University School of Public Health, found that although water is relatively abundant in the United States, "current trends are sufficient to strain water resources over time, especially on a regional basis."

The study cited as contributing factors the deterioration of public water infrastructure such as pipes, as well as global climate effects, waterborne disease, land use, groundwater and surface water contamination, and ineffective government regulations.

"U.S. public drinking water supplies will face challenges in these areas in the next century, and . . . solutions to at least some of them will require institutional changes," the report said.

At least $151 billion needs to be spent over the next 20 years to guarantee the continued high quality of U.S. water, the report said.

The Water Infrastructure Network - a national coalition of local government officials, water and water treatment utilities, health administrators, engineers and environmentalists - reported similar findings last year, putting the total cost of solving the problem at $1 trillion.

The coalition's study said that an additional $23 billion a year must be spent on the nation's 54,000 community water systems to meet all the requirements of the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act and replace aging and failing pipes and other infrastructure.

The federal government now spends about $3 billion a year on water resources and wastewater treatment, the group's report said.

Do you have a question about developments in national or international news? Call us at (316) 268-6266 or e-mail and we'll try to answer your question in the Saturday paper.


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