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Waste News
Copyright (C) 2003 Crain Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Vol: 8 Num: 27
News


House Weighs Wastewater System Upgrades
Bruce Geiselman Washington --

Two members of Congress introduced a bill April 3 that would place an
additional $20 billion into a federal loan program to help communities
upgrade their wastewater treatment systems.

The measure would reauthorize the loan program and provide the
additional funding over five years.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young,
R-Alaska, and Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman John
J. Duncan, R-Tenn., introduced the Water Quality Financing Act of 2003.

"As a nation, we are not investing enough in our wastewater treatment
infrastructure to ensure that we will continue to keep our waters
clean," Young said. "Nearly half of sewer pipes in American cities are
over 50 years old. Some are over 100 years old. Our treatment plants
need to be updated, and some need to be replaced. To meet these needs,
all levels of government need to increase their investment in wastewater
infrastructure."

Wastewater utilities, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the
Congressional Budget Office have all estimated a $9 billion to $12
billion annual shortfall between the amount of money available and the
amount needed to maintain and upgrade the nation's wastewater
infrastructure.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials have said that without
sewer system improvements, the country could lose the environmental
gains it has achieved in the last 30 years.

The legislation followed a March 19 subcommittee hearing at which
representatives of local governments and nonprofit agencies asked for
more funding to help local wastewater districts.

One witness - Michael Sullivan, mayor of Holyoke, Mass., and a
representative of the U.S. Conference of Mayors - told subcommittee
members that he endorsed the plan for the federal government to set
aside an additional $20 billion in state revolving loan funds.

"The [state revolving fund] authorizations fall far short of providing
the financing necessary to adequately address all of the unmet needs,
but we commend the members of the committee for demonstrating the
willingness to commit financial support," Sullivan said.

He told the representatives that his city's sewer system was created
more than 125 years ago. The city, like much of the country, is facing
hard economic times, Sullivan said. Yet the city has to deal with
environmental problems caused by a combined-sewer overflow problem.
Cities are under the gun to separate their sanitary and storm sewers to
avoid overflow problems during periods of heavy rain.

Holyoke needs to pay between $44 million and $78 million to correct
the problem. Officials estimate it could cost every sewer-using customer
in Holyoke $833 per year to foot the bill, Sullivan said. "This is just
an example of the problem that my city is facing," he said. "My
counterparts all across the nation are facing similar problems."

William B. Schatz, of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District in
Cleveland and a representative of the Water Infrastructure Network, said
Congress needs to take a leading role in developing a solution.

"WIN strongly believes that we will ultimately need a long-term,
dedicated source of funding to address the nation's critical water
infrastructure needs," Schatz said.

The Water Infrastructure Network is a coalition of nearly 40
organizations representing drinking water and wastewater agencies, local
elected officials and others.

Wastewater needs are particularly acute in rural communities, said
Mark Rounsavall, director of the Rural Community Assistance Program of
the Community Resource Group, a nonprofit organization. The program's
mission is to ensure the availability of safe and clean water in rural
areas.

Small towns lack both adequate funding for their wastewater systems
and the political clout to leverage greater government support,
Rounsavall said in testimony to the committee.

Small communities cannot be asked to shoulder the funding burden
alone, he said. While state revolving loan funds, the U.S. Department
of Agriculture Rural Utility Services Loan and Grant programs and
Community Development Block Grants provide some support, it is
inadequate, he said.

Rounsavall recommended a revolving loan fund specifically for small
communities.

Duncan said he would work with Republicans and Democrats in an effort
to pass the legislation that would make the additional loan money
available.

However, there is no single solution to the problem, he said.
Communities also need to do everything they can to reduce costs.

Contact Waste News government affairs editor Bruce Geiselman at (330)
865-6172 or bgeiselman@crain.com

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