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Pollution Engineering

The Nation's Wastewater Infrastructure is Crumbling

In its annual Report Card for America's Infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) says the nation's 16,024 wastewater systems face enormous needs. "Some sewer systems are 100 years old and many treatment facilities are way past their recommended life expectancy." Giving the wastewater industry a "D" grade, the report notes "our existing national wastewater infrastructure is aging and in need of repair, replacement and upgrading."

Echoing Tom Jackson's warning of a crumbling infrastructure, Ken Kirk, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies said, "The nation is facing a looming crisis regarding wastewater infrastructure. Without a serious, long-term funding commitment from the federal government, the shortfall will continue to grow in the coming years and we will have missed our opportunity to secure the water quality gains for future generations."

Determining estimated costs for the necessary investment in the nation's clean water infrastructure has been a task undertaken by the EPA's Office of Water and the Water Infrastructure Network (WIN). In the recent WIN report and the EPA's Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Gap Analysis, the wastewater renewal and replacement need is estimated to range from $331 to $450 billion (in 2000 dollars).

Senior Environmental Scientist Robert Bastian in the EPA's Office of the Water estimates the total U.S. wastewater flow at 35 bgd from 16,024 wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) serving 207.8 million Americans, or 75 percent of the population. He estimates that 24 of the 35 bgd total flow comes from the 500 plants in heavily populated areas that pump more than 10 mgd.

Bastian says that these large collection systems, big trunk sewers and huge pipes for handling peak flow periods encourage increased corrosion rates. Frequently planned for a 50-year design life, these collection systems are often 20 to 30 years overdue for replacement, and communities are hard-pressed to keep up with the demands for infrastructure maintenance.

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