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EPA Says $277 Billion Needed by Utilities
For Infrastructure During Next 20 Years

Drinking water utilities will need about $277 billion for infrastructure construction, upgrades, and replacement during the next 20 years, according to a survey released by the Environmental Protection Agency June 14.

The assessment in Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment: Third Report to Congress exceeds the agency's previous two estimates of 1995 and 1999 by more than 60 percent, EPA said.


The higher figure in the 2003 study is due to refinements in surveying techniques and a greater participation by states than in previous surveys, an EPA press officer told BNA June 15. "Therefore, EPA received both more and higher quality reports from those states," he said.

The higher quality reports include previously underreported needs for infrastructure rehabilitation and replacement, according to EPA.

Allocation of Loan Money

The needs surveys are used by EPA to allocate federal funds from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) to states based on their needs. With these allocations, states then make low-interest loans to water utilities for infrastructure projects and source water protection activities.

The need surveys are required every four years under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Since the SRF began in 1997, EPA has made nearly $8 billion in federal funds available to states, the agency said. For fiscal year 2006, EPA requested $850 million for the revolving fund.

In its 1999 needs survey, released in March 2001, EPA estimated that about $165.5 billion would be needed for infrastructure for the years 1999-2018 and in the 1997 survey, released in 1999, put the need at $167.4 billion, the agency said (43 DEN A-1, 3/5/01).

EPA Tries to Narrow Gap

Although the SRF can help finance infrastructure projects, it will not begin to cover total costs. For example, the Water Infrastructure Network estimates about $220 billion over 20 years is needed for drinking water infrastructure, Adam Krantz, a spokesman for the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, told BNA June 15.

The Water Infrastructure Network (WIN) comprises drinking water and wastewater utilities, municipal organizations, environmental groups, and engineering consultants.

EPA has estimated the gap between what is needed for infrastructure and what is available to be $535 billion over the next 20 years.

The 2003 needs survey "reemphasizes our commitment to sustainability and flexibility as important tools for narrowing the gap," Benjamin Grumbles, assistant EPA administrator for water, told BNA June 15.

Because more federal funding for infrastructure may not be forthcoming, in recent years EPA has advocated other methods to ensure drinking water utilities meet federal standards.

The 2003 survey "reemphasizes our tools of sustainability, particularly asset management, and water efficiency--all important components to water sustainability," Grumbles said.

Other tools for sustainability include collecting better data on infrastructure condition and long-term planning for rehabilitation and replacement, according to the report.

Reflects Needs of 74,400 Utilities

The 2003 needs survey, based on data collected in 2003, reflects the infrastructure needs of the approximate 53,000 community water systems and 21,400 not-for-profit noncommunity water systems, EPA said.
To collect data for the survey, EPA said it sent questionnaires to all of the United States' 1,041 large utilities--those serving more than 50,000 people.

The agency also sent questionnaires to all U.S. medium systems, those serving between 40,001 and 50,000 people, the report said.

A random sample of 2,553 of 7,337 systems serving 3,301 to 40,000 people also was conducted, the agency said. About 96 percent of all questionnaires were completed and returned, according to EPA.

EPA's third Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment: Third Report to Congressis available at http://www.epa.gov/safewater/needssurvey.

By Patricia Ware

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