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U.S. Water Quality, Infrastructure Poor
Tuesday, October 1, 2002


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 signi- ficantly.
The agency issued two separate 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 that 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 keep up with pressing needs.
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 said.
Environmentalists said the reports paint a darker picture than that.
"We're not making progress in addressing the remaining sources of water pollution," said Nancy Stoner, director of 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 cover them through higher local water and sewer rates.
"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, we're looking at a massive environmental and public health problem."
Bush administration officials have said that they opposed a bipartisan House plan to make billions more available to help states with wastewater projects, because defense spending must take priority.
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