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3/13/2001 WIN announces report on Water Infrastructure Challenges: Water Infrastructure Now

WIN's NewsWatch - Editorials and Articles

As Need for Infrastructure Grows, Costs Rise Clean, Safe Water Acts Don't Include Required Funds (09/17/2001)

City's Sewer Problems Can't Be Delayed Longer (10/1/2001)

Water, Fresh From The Tap (9/24/01)

Nation's Water, Sewer Lines Need Work; Urge Young To Back Funds (8/25/01)

Lowell Needs Federal Aid For Vital Water Upgrade (8/22/01)

Federal Funding May be Tempered for Sewer, Water Projects (9/18/01)

Panel to Hear from Maryland Expert about Growth, Environment (9/17/01)

A $1 Trillion Water Bill Municipal Systems Will Require State, Federal Help (4/11/01)

As Need for Infrastructure Grows, Costs Rise Clean, Safe Water Acts Don't Include Required Funds

Providence Business News

As the infrastructure that supports the state's water and sewer systems deteriorates, the cost of repairing it rises. Much of the infrastructure was installed almost a century ago.

And while state and federal agencies continue to put in place regulations to raise the standards of water and sewer treatment facilities, they have been slow to increase funds for projects now required by law. The result is, nationwide, an estimated $23 billion financial gap per year for the next 20 years if we bring these infrastructures, located beneath city streets, to full compliance.

Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay Commission (NBC), which owns and operates two of the largest wastewater treatment plants in the state, knows first hand about the issues. In May of this year, NBC broke ground on its sewer overflow project - the construction of a 16,000-foot long tunnel that will stretch from Fields Point in Providence to the Foundry Building. Created in response to a federal mandate, the project, which is expected to take close to two decades to complete, comes with a $550 million price tag. So far, the organization has only obtained $1 million in federal funding - leaving a $449 million gap.

"The federal requirements are getting more stringent and basically everything is coming home to roost," said Paul Pinault, executive director of the NBC. "The thing that we are trying to impress is that you can't look at the sewer system with blinders, you have to look at the big picture - libraries, bridges, roads, and sewer systems - the bottom line is it all comes out of the same pockets. I think that what we have tried to impress is that you can't make all of these requirements and then say you have to figure it out on your own. You have to be realistic that this isn't the only problem that the community has."

According to the Water Infrastructure Network, over the next 20 years American's water and wastewater systems will have to invest $23 billion a year more to meet the standards set by the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

"New solutions are needed to what amounts to nearly a trillion dollars in critical water and wastewater investments over the next two decades," it said in a recent report released by the Water Infrastructure Network, based in Washington D.C. "Not meeting the investment needs of the next 20 years risks reversing public health, environmental, and economic gains of the last three decades."

"It's easy to forget that beneath our streets, sidewalks and lawn lies an infrastructure system that is just as important as the one that supports our cars as we go about our daily work routines," Pinault wrote in a letter to Providence Business News. "The pipes that brings us safe, disease-free drinking water and that carry the waste away from our homes and businesses is as heavily used as out transportation infrastructure system. But while our federal taxes have long paid for improvements to our roadways, Washington has been sending fewer dollars every year to pay for the drinking water pipes and sewage treatment plants that protect public health and the environment."

According to Jamie Samons, public affairs director for the NBC, the $449 million gap in the state's combined sewer overflow project will most likely come from the pockets of users - who now pay one of the lowest rates in the state.

"That gap puts a lot of pressure on our users," she said. "If you look at the latest census figures our users that fall into the low income, and elderly populations are growing. These are people with fixed incomes and if we raise our rates they will be affected."

The problem has been exacerbated, Pinault said, by the phase out of a federally funded program in the mid-1980s which gave grants covering 90 percent of project costs to organizations like the NBC.

"When we lost that it had a big impact on the pocketbooks and budgets of the people that are responsible for the maintenance of sewer systems," he said. "It was replaced with a loan program that charges interest. And while it's a small amount of interest, it's still there and we have to pay it back."

Last November, the NBC received a boost when voters approved a bond issue that gave the NBC $70 million in a no-interest loan. But according to Pinault, the program is just getting started and it's unclear when the funding will be available.

In addition, Pinault said the state's congressional delegation has proposed $4 million in funding for the project in this year's Senate Appropriations Bill. The bill, already approved in the Senate, still needs to get full House approval.

And while Pinault said the NBC's combined sewer overflow project is one example of the growing gap between regulations and funding, he said, it's important to remember it's a part of a larger national problem.

"This is a huge problem," he said. "It affects our system and many others. It's similar to the theory 'out of sight out of mind.' Historically, what people have done is deferred the maintenance of these pipes because they would rather put the time and effort into things that you can see like roads and schools. The result is now being felt."

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City's Sewer Problems Can't Be Delayed Longer

The Atlanta Journal and Constitution
October 1, 2001

If he or she is smart, the next mayor of Atlanta won't wait until January to take up the explosive matter of the court-ordered cleanup of the city's sewer system.

Time is so tight and the territory so rugged that the mayor-elect ought to go to work the day after the election. The current administration is leaving behind a veritable minefield of unfinished business, and the candidates' own promises aren't going to make things any easier. Under one of the toughest cleanup orders in the country, the city this spring complied with a deadline to propose its solution to a decades-old problem of human waste overflows during rainstorms. The problem is with the remaining combined sewers, which still lie under about 15 percent of the city's territory, mostly downtown and in adjoining areas.

State and federal environmental agencies have approved the city's $1 billion plan to build a system of huge tunnels that would collect both stormwater and sewer overflows and deliver it all to a new treatment plant. They believe it's the city's best chance to meet the 2007 compliance date in the court order.

Meeting the deadline to submit the cleanup proposal was an important step toward restoring the city's battered credibility with the court and regulators. However, it came at the cost of enraging resident-activists who oppose tunnels and want the stormwater and sewage pipes completely separated. And the city has since undermined its progress with regulators.

The EPA last month sent a sharply worded letter criticizing the city's exaggerated cost estimates. From the regulators' standpoint, it appeared that the city was trying to show a larger-than-necessary impact on ratepayers in order to make a case for further delay. Meanwhile, the city has racked up potential fines of $53 million, mostly for failing to report more than 100 illegal discharges; the penalties could be substantially reduced through negotiations, however.

Whether or not officials inflated the cost estimates, the city is going to have find a way to raise upwards of $3 billion over the next 10 to 15 years to fix aging sewers and expand water and sewer capacity for new growth. That can't all be borne by water customers in a city that also bears the brunt of the region's poverty. Yet the current administration has done next to nothing to pursue low-interest loans and grants under existing state and federal programs, nor to lay the groundwork for more creative funding approaches.

Enter the top three mayoral candidates. All have intimated that they will try to appease the activists by pushing for the time and flexibility to pursue complete sewer separation. But they must understand that they inherit zero credibility with a federal judge and regulators who have every reason to be skeptical. It is unlikely they will accept significant delays. Meanwhile, interim deadlines and stiffer penalties continue to bear down on the city.

Whoever wins the November election, then, will need a plan of action on several fronts. The new mayor first must propose an acceptable technical solution, if other than the current proposal. He or she must devise a plan to pay for needed infrastructure improvements and sell it to the public and regulators.

Vague promises and pleas for more time will make absolutely no headway with the court and environmental agencies. They've heard it all before.

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Water, Fresh From The Tap (9/24/01)

Our Nation's Water and Sewer Systems Need Nearly $1 Trillion Over the Next 20 Years

Casper Star-Tribune 9/24/01

As we ease into fall, we need to remember that this summer has been one of the hottest and driest on record here in Wyoming. Health reports constantly remind us how important it is to drink lots of water during warm weather. During these dog days of summer, a tall glass of water sounds so refreshing. We take for granted how easy it is to turn on the faucet, fill our glass, add a couple of ice cubes, sit down and relax.

What if we weren't able to do such a simple, mundane task like drink a glass of water fresh from the tap? What if we were to turn on the faucet to find that there was a mere dribble, or the quality was less than pleasing? Unfortunately, for many communities, that day may soon come.

Our country's 54,000 drinking water systems and 16,000 wastewater systems face staggering infrastructure funding needs of nearly $1 trillion over the next 20 years.

Engineering studies show that the average useful life of water and sewer lines is 75 years. This means that communities need to replace about 1.5 percent of their water and sewer lines per year just to keep up with aging and deterioration. In a community of, say 10,000, that amounts to 1 to 2 miles of water and sewer line replacement annually.

These systems collectively, face an unprecedented funding gap of $23 billion a ear between current investments to infrastructure and the investments that will be necessary over the next 20 years to replace aging and failing pipes an keep our water clean. In addition, new and coming water quality regulations demand newer, better and more expensive treatment techniques with attendant better training, education, and certification for the operators of those systems.

Without sufficient infrastructure to keep wastewater in the pipes below and drinking water clean, our health could be threatened. It seems that local solutions, like increased water and wastewater rates should be enough to solve the problem. Unfortunately, they only address a portion of the problem. Financing the full$23 billion funding gap with utility rate increases would result in doubling or tripling of water rates across the nation. In some communities, that factor is much higher. If this were to happen, at least a third of the U. S. population would have to pay more than 4 percent of their household income for water and sewer.

Small, rural and low income communities would be hit the hardest, since costs are high in smaller systems.

What can we as citizens do? Contact Rep. Barbara Cubin today and tell her that funding for water infrastructure improvements needs to be a priority. By maintaining the infrastructure we presently have, millions of dollars can be saved in the long run. Then, tell her to go pour a nice glass of clean water from the tap - while she still can.

This critical issue already has bipartisan support in Congress. Representatives Michael Billrakis (R-FL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Robert Borski (D-PA) established the House Water Infrastructure caucus (WIC), an internal House organization dedicated to developing and passing legislation to meet the nation's water infrastructure challenge. Over 80 house members have joined the caucus to date.

To find out more about this crisis, log onto: ( WIN stands for the Water Infrastructure Network, which comprises 38 national organizations, representing water agencies, mayors, counties, engineers, public works officials, and environmentalists working together to solve the nation's coming infrastructure-funding crisis.

FORUM Article by Bruce Florquist

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Nation's Water, Sewer Lines Need Work; Urge Young To Back Funds

Anchorage Daily News 8/25/01

Our state and the federal government leverage more than $80 million annually to improve running water and sewer systems for rural Alaskans, but this is jus the edge of the ice floe. The whopping price tag for piping and infrastructure and utilities that treat and deliver the nation's water is an annual $23 billion for the next twenty years, according to the Water Infrastructure Network, a coalition that includes my professional society, the Water Environment Federation.

In anchorage, where rate payers currently cover about 90 percent of the cost to build operate, and maintain public water and sewer systems, a major investment in new water pipeline infrastructure is badly needed. Projected costs for this and related projects could total more than $200 million just in the next six years. WIN is calling for federal attention and funding to help communities by subsidizing some 50 percent of the rising cost of clean water.

You can write Alaska Rep. Don Young, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to call for his support in developing legislation to require this critical federal funding. And you can visit to find out more.

Its not too late to protect the country's water quality, but we must invest now.

Micahel Pollen, President
Northern Testing Laboratories, Inc. Fairbanks
Past President Water Environment Federation

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Lowell Needs Federal Aid For Vital Water Upgrade

Lowell Sun 8/22/01

The time has come to address an issue of national significance and of critical local magnitude -- the alarming rate of deterioration of our pipes and plants that convey and treat our water and wastewater. It is my hope that the press, which has been noticeably silent on the enormous costs associated with the repair and replacement of our water infrastructure, will take notice now. The issue is in full swing, with federal and local officials planning to meet the daunting challenge by initiating a comprehensive plan to ensure what we take for granted everyday -- safe drinking water that protects public health and treated wastewater that protects our environment.

Recent national statistics estimate that there is a $23 billion funding gap per year for each of the next 20 years that must be bridged to pay for upgrades necessary to ensure that the nation's drinking water and wastewater pipes and treatment facilities can continue providing safe, clean and affordable water to the nation.

The breadth of the national problem, however, should not blur the fact that this is an issue of the highest priority at the local, municipal and state levels. As executive director of the Lowell Regional Wastewater Utility which serves 180,000 people, it has become increasingly clear to me that an increase in federal funding to upgrade our ailing infrastructure is the only viable solution.

In Lowell, we have 230 miles of pipe, much of which is over 150 years old. Its useful life is coming to an end. Almost half of the flow to the utility is due to inflow and infiltration from ground water that enters sewer pipes through leaks and cracks. While our agency has done tremendous work in serving its population, we cannot ignore the financial realities forced upon us by decaying infrastructure, a growing customer base, the effects of sprawl that further pressure our wastewater system, and an increasing number of federal regulations with high compliance costs. The cost to comply with EPA's CSO (Combined Sewer Overflow) regulation could cost Lowell in excess of $200 million dollars, all without federal help. In short, the importance of federal involvement cannot be overstated.

For the ratepayers and citizens of Lowell it is easy to forget that beneath our streets, sidewalks and lawns lies an infrastructure system that is just as important as the one that supports our cars as we go about our daily work routines. The pipes that bring us safe, disease-free drinking water and that carry waste away from our homes and businesses is as heavily used as our transportation infrastructure system. But while our federal taxes have long paid for improvements to our roadways, Washington has been sending fewer dollars every year to pay for the drinking water pipes and sewage treatment plants that protect public health and the environment.

The encouraging news is that a growing number of U.S. senators and representatives are now calling for the federal government to reinvest in our precious water infrastructure systems. Lowell needs its representatives in Congress to be vocal and helpful in advancing the cause of water infrastructure funding. We heartily endorse their effort because we know how important these systems are to our community and how costly the repairs and upgrades will be to our ratepayers without a renewed federal commitment.

We hope that The Sun and other interested parties start giving water infrastructure the attention it deserves. Just because our water pipes and treatment plants are largely out of sight does not mean they can remain out of mind. It is time for us to understand and appreciate the fundamental value of clean and safe water.


Executive Director
Lowell Regional Wastewater Utility

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Federal Funding May be Tempered for Sewer, Water Projects

Associated Press Newswires
Tuesday, September 18, 2001

DETROIT (AP) - Regional planners, elected officials and business representatives want the federal government to help cover the $26-billion cost of sewer and water infrastructure improvements.

But the price of responding to terrorist attacks last week on New York City and Washington, D.C., may mean priorities will shift despite support for increased funding from Michigan's congressional delegation.

"A lot of questions in the budget won't be of significant concern now," U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, told the Detroit Free Press for a Tuesday story. "What we're going to be dealing with are issues of national security."

But water quality is a priority that can't be ignored, said U.S. District Judge John Feikens. The area's chief enforcer of the federal Clean Water Act told businesses and elected leaders in the region Monday that they don't have much more time to fix infrastructure.

"My deepest concern is that right now in the aftereffect of last Tuesday that people will say 'Let's forget about that for a while,"' he said. "But we can't do that with water quality."

In other states, federal judges have ordered a moratorium on building until municipalities can deal with water-quality issues. Feikens hasn't done that yet, but has told the consortium that he expects less talk and more action.

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Panel to Hear from Maryland Expert about Growth, Environment

Associated Press Newswires
Monday, September 17, 2001

DETROIT (AP) - A new panel on water quality will hear from an expert from Maryland, a state that takes a different approach than most to growth and environmental issues.

John W. Frece, chief spokesman for Maryland's Smart Growth Initiative, was scheduled to speak Monday to the Southeast Michigan Consortium for Water Quality about efforts to rein in suburban development.

The meeting will be the third for the water-quality consortium, formed at the urging of U.S. District Judge John Feikens, who has presided over a number of cases involving water quality and pollution. Its aim is to push for adequate funding for water infrastructure and to address the affects of continued development on water quality.

Chuck Hersey, a spokesman for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, said the panel was also expected to consider a resolution calling for Congress to restore federal funding for improvements to local sewer and water systems.

The budget proposed by President Bush would have cut that funding about 30 percent from last year's $1.35 billion, Hersey told The Detroit News for a Monday story. Each house of Congress subsequently voted to restore at least part of the money.

Estimates on the cost of making necessary improvements in southeast Michigan's water systems, which are being taxed by suburban sprawl, are in the billions of dollars.

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A $1 Trillion Water Bill Municipal Systems Will Require State, Federal Help

The Harrisburg Patriot
Wednesday, April 11, 2001

The late Illinois Sen. Everett Dirksen famously said many years ago, "a billion here, a billion there. Pretty soon it adds up to real money."

More and more these days, however, government seems to talks in terms of trillions, rather than billions. Consider President Bush's $1.96 trillion federal budget, his proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut, the $5.6 trillion national debt, and the $3.2 trillion projected surplus, give or take a few hundred billion.

Here is another trillion to keep in mind: $1 trillion to address the needs of the nation's 54,000 drinking-water systems and 16,000 wastewater systems over the next 20 years. That figure comes from the Water Infrastructure Network, a coalition of 29 organizations representing local government officials, municipal professionals, engineers, environmentalists and labor unions.

The problem is that major segments of the existing water and sewer infrastructure are 50 years to more than 100 years old and deteriorating. And as the current controversy surrounding the government's allowable limit for arsenic in drinking water suggests, improving the quality of municipal water also adds significant costs.

Local ratepayers provide some $60 billion annually to their local water and sewer districts. That's a lot of money, as those who have seen substantially higher water bills in recent years can well attest -- among them Harrisburg users.

However, the scope of the needed repairs, more costly but important federal mandates likely to come, such as reduced arsenic content, and the decline in federal dollars toward improved water quality, indicate that local entities are likely to be able to generate only about half of the funds needed for infrastructure fixes. Cities are already lobbying Congress to provide much of the rest.

Clean, fresh water is never so precious as when it is in short supply. With a growing population and increasing water use by industry and society, ensuring more-than-ample supplies of quality water is something no community can take for granted. But neither should the state and federal governments, which are going to have to put clean and adequate water supplies on their radar screens. Otherwise, the problems with water quality and quantity are bound to get a lot worse and make $1 trillion seem like a bargain.

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