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Utilities Need $277B to Upgrade Treatment Systems, EPA Says

Tasha Eichenseher, Greenwire reporter
Bringing community water systems into compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act will cost $277 billion over the next 20 years -- a nearly 60 percent increase over needs reported four years ago, the U.S. EPA said in a assessment released yesterday.

The new report examines data from 2003 to determine the cost of repairing and upgrading aging pipes and treatment facilities at nearly 75,000 water utilities. EPA spokesman Dale Kemery said increased funding needs in the current report over the previous assessment released in 2001 reflects improved surveying techniques and increased state participation.

EPA's assessment focuses on drinking water only. Industry officials and environmentalists often cite an even more dramatic funding gap -- ranging from $400 billion to $1 trillion -- but they are including upgrades for both drinking water and wastewater treatment.

According to a 2002 EPA report on infrastructure repairs needed to meet both Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act requirements, the funding gap is as large as $543 billion for the period from 2000 to 2019 (Greenwire, Oct. 1, 2002).

EPA's numbers for drinking water are consistent with a 2001 American Water Works Association report that puts the funding gap at $250 billion over 30 years, AWWA's Al Warburton said. "Whether it's $1 trillion or $700 billion [for both drinking water and wastewater], all the numbers demonstrate that there is a big need out there," he said.

For drinking water repairs, utilities are eligible for federal funds from EPA's $850 million Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. Congress appropriated $6.96 billion for the program from 1997 through 2004 for low interest loans.

The general infrastructure funding gap has drawn the attention of Congress, which has been debating a proposal by the Bush administration to cut EPA's Clean Water State Revolving Fund to $730 million in fiscal year 2006. The fund is the primary source of federal resources for wastewater repairs.

Click here to download a copy the report.

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