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Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle

Tuesday, October 1, 2002


Clean water found in short supply / EPA reports U.S. waterways polluted,
treatment plants underfunded
Associated Press

WASHINGTON - More than a third of surveyed rivers, and about half
of all lakes and estuaries, are too polluted for swimming or
fishing, the Environmental Protection Agency said Monday. It
projected a gap of more than $500 billion in unmet water-quality
needs over 20 years unless spending on treatment facilities rises

The agency issued two reports on water quality that were each
based on 2000 data. In one of the reports, a biennial national water
quality inventory that formerly was issued as a report to Congress,
the agency said runoff from farmland, sewage treatment plants and
changes in the natural flow of streams and rivers is fouling the
nation's waters.

From 1998 to 2000, the percentage of polluted streams rose from
35 percent to 39 percent; the percentage of polluted lakes was
unchanged at 45 percent; and the percentage of polluted estuaries
increased from 44 percent to 51 percent.

The second report, a so-called "gap analysis" of water
infrastructure needs, says an increase in real spending on the
nation's network of treatment plants by 3 percent above the rate of
inflation would be required for cities and towns to meet pressing

By 2019, systems could be short $271 billion for wastewater and
$263 billion for drinking water - money that would be badly needed
to replace aging pipes, maintain existing facilities and build new
ones to meet rising demand, the agency said.

With the 3 percent spending increases, the gaps could be held to
$45 billion for drinking water and $31 billion for wastewater, it

G. Tracy Mehan III, EPA's assistant administrator for water
programs, blamed deferred maintenance, inadequate capital
replacement and a generally aging infrastructure.

He said funding gaps need not be inevitable, however.

"The overall picture is that probably compared to any country in
the world, we've had tremendous success in the past several decades,
especially given the rip-roaring growth of the economy and the
substantial growth in the population," Mehan said in an interview.

"But there's no doubt we face new challenges and more complex

Environmentalists said the reports paint a darker picture.

"We're not making progress in addressing the remaining sources of
water pollution," said Nancy Stoner, director of the Natural
Resources Defense Council's clean water project.

Owners of water and waste treatment plants immediately suggested
that the federal government should pick up the added costs rather
than letting them be covered through higher local water and sewer

"It bolsters the need for Congress to act quickly on this," said
Adam Krantz, a spokesman for the Water Infrastructure Network, a
trade group for local elected officials and drinking water and
wastewater administrators.

"Without immediate action," Krantz said, "we're looking at a
massive environmental and public health problem."

The EPA's report made no recommendation on who should pick up the

Krantz said, however, it probably would add to pressure for more
federal funding "now that you have the EPA under a Bush
administration, which doesn't want to spend money, coming out and
positing a very startling high number."

Bush administration officials have said they oppose a bipartisan
House plan to make billions more available to help states with
wastewater projects because defense spending must take priority.

Congress has funded such projects at $1.35 billion annually for
the past five years, but President Bush sought $1.21 billion in his
budget for the fiscal year starting Tuesday. Instead, Senate
appropriators added $100 million, bringing the potential total to
$1.45 billion.

For drinking water, senators proposed $875 million, which is $25 million more than both what Bush wanted in his budget and what was approved last year.



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