AWWA Estimates Katrina Damage at $2.25 Billion

Nov. 1, 2005
The American Water Works Association (AWWA) said its preliminary assessment is that Hurrican Katrina caused more than $2.25 billion in damages...

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) said its preliminary assessment is that Hurricane Katrina caused more than $2.25 billion in damages to public drinking water infrastructure.

AWWA sent its report to members of Congress and the White House to help decision-makers plan for the costs of getting water systems damaged by Katrina back into operation as soon as possible.

The AWWA report estimated costs to repair or replace assets such as treatment plants, storage pumping, and related control facilities impacted by storm surge, flooding and other factors.

It also analyzed the impact of revenue shortfalls due to the inability to service debt, particularly in communities where customers have relocated and the system is inoperable.

The estimate did not include the costs of recovery activities such as pipe flushing and disinfection, interim operating needs such as power generation, and cleaning up contaminated source waters.

“While the preliminary cost estimate for replacing and repairing water infrastructure is significant, we expect the full cost of restoring water systems to pre-Hurricane Katrina status could be much higher,” said Jack Hoffbuhr, AWWA executive director. “Nevertheless, this estimate will help Congress begin to gauge the long-term costs of restoring safe drinking water service, which is critical for any community.”

The report estimates that $1.6 billion will be required for 47 water systems serving more than 10,000 persons, with an additional $650 million required in 885 smaller, primarily groundwater systems. The systems are all in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Louisiana’s senators, Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and David Vitter (R-La.) jointly filed a bill that would earmark $7 billion for their state’s water and wastewater repairs.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would disburse the funds to repair water and wastewater infrastructure, support drinking water emergency and technical assistance grants, and reimburse local utility recovery expenses.

The $7 billion was part of a $250 billion package for items including agriculture, coastal restoration and protection, economic redevelopment, energy, environmental resources, disaster assistance, and more.

The bill would earmark $210 million in Department of Agriculture water and wastewater grants and loans for affected systems and $190 million for emergency watershed protection projects.

Congress already had appropriated $62.3 billion for emergency relief immediately after the disaster.

“This unprecedented national tragedy will require an unprecedented national response,” said Sen. Landrieu. “It will require unity, passion and bold innovative thinking, and a strong commitment from the federal government.”

Sen. Vitter said the Louisiana delegation in the House of Representatives will file similar legislation there. “We’ve focused on not just short-term relief, but the medium- and long-term recovery needed by Louisiana and the Gulf Coast,” he said.

Meanwhile, the US Senate passed the Gulf Coast Water Infrastructure Emergency Assistance Act to help water systems affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said the bill had strong bipartisan support.

He said, “The Gulf Coast Water Infrastructure Emergency Assistance Act is critical to Katrina recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast and will help ensure that the three states hit the hardest will receive funding for their water projects expeditiously.”

The committee observed that states cannot forgive the principal on loans through the federal clean water revolving fund, although they can with federal drinking water loans.

The legislation, S. 1709, would give Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi -- the three states affected by Hurricane Katrina - that authority.

The committee said under current law, states can only fund drinking water projects that appear on their annual intended use plan. The legislation will waive that requirement to ensure drinking water and wastewater systems affected by Katrina are immediately eligible for state funds.

The bill would allow EPA to help homeowners with the testing of their water wells for potential contaminants from the flood waters.

The Senate also approved S. 1017, the Water Resources Research Act Amendments of 2005. It continues the partnership between the federal government and university-level water researchers.

It allows state water research institutes to provide grants to address problems such as the quantity and quality of water supplies, the sources of water contaminants and methods of remediation, and the training of research scientists, engineers and technicians.

Urban Water Survey

The US Conference of Mayors (USCM) issued a survey, conducted before hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast, which warned of the need to rebuild and repair the nation’s aging water infrastructure.

The National Urban Water Resources Survey contacted 414 cities. It found that nearly 40% of them did not expect to have adequate water supplies in 20 years.

Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, chairman of the USCM’s Urban Water Council, said, “It is time for this country to focus more attention and resources to find common sense solutions to rebuild our crumbling and aging water infrastructure.”

The survey found that the majors “top 10” water concerns were, in order: aging water infrastructure, water infrastructure security, water supply availability, unfunded federal mandates, water quality of rivers, flooding, emergency planning, drought management, regional conflicts over water, and water rights.

USCM said, “These results show that ‘everyday’ issues like maintaining, replacing, and building water infrastructure remain critical challenges for cities. Although cities have been extremely active in committing their own funds to major capital investments in water and wastewater infrastructure, there is still a tremendous need for additional infrastructure investment.”

The group said unfunded federal mandates are a serious problem. “Currently major funding is directed toward water legislation and regulation instead of infrastructure improvement, where it is sorely needed. This has left many cities unprepared for man-made and natural disasters, as witnessed by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.”

Water Advocacy

Water Advocates was launched in September in Washington, D.C. Goal of the non-profit advocacy group is to increase funding and raise public awareness regarding safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

The group said worldwide, more than 1.1 billion people lack safe, affordable and sustainable drinking water and 2.6 billion people lack adequate sanitation. It said 3,900 children die daily due to preventable deaths caused by unsafe drinking water.

Water Advocates said 80% of the developing world’s diseases stem from waterborne illnesses or inadequate sanitation.

“Each year between two and five million people worldwide die from lack of safe water and sanitation. Given this dire situation, the creation of a US-based advocacy group is long overdue,” said David Douglas, Water Advocates president. “We know what the problem is and we have the knowledge and resources to save millions of lives - we simply need to extend water to those without it. Water Advocates and other US nonprofits can make enormous strides in helping solve this worldwide crisis by informing the public and ensuring that funding is available for more projects.”

Water Advocates will not implement water projects or seek funding for itself from the public. Instead, it will raise funds for programs that make the public aware of the need for safe, affordable, and sustainable supplies of drinking water.

It will work with civic organizations, businesses, faith-based organizations, philanthropies, and the US government to complement the work of developing countries and to hasten the provision of safe drinking water and basic sanitation facilities.

Water, Energy “Roadmap”

Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has challenged a congressionally authorized group to create a “roadmap” for assuring sufficient energy and water in the future.

The senator was instrumental in creating the task force, which consists of representatives from 12 Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories and a diverse group of water experts. DOE’s Sandia National Laboratories is leading the effort.

Domenici said, “Energy and water are interdependent. We cannot have sufficient energy without having sufficient water. The reverse is also true. Drinking water and wastewater treatment are dependent on having the energy to pump, move and treat it. This new roadmap initiative will require its participants to be innovative.”

The recently enacted National Energy Policy Act directed DOE to research, develop, demonstrate and commercialize programs to address interdependent energy and water problems.

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