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The Fort Worth Star-Telegram
(c) Copyright 2002, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, March 28, 2002

national

Water may be key environment issue
By MICHAEL KILIAN
Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON - Threats to water pose the biggest environmental challenge to the United States, mainly because of climate change and deteriorating water systems, the EPA chief warned Wednesday.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman said
New York and other 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."

Whitman also urged Congress to replace the federal government's
controversial new source review policy for controlling power plant
pollution with a program called Clear Skies that President Bush has
proposed.

The EPA chief said the president believes that global warming
presents a problem but is uncertain how to focus the government's
resources for dealing with it.

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."

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, ground- 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.

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