EPA Submits Clean Water Needs Report to Congress

March 1, 2008
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that the nation needs $202.5 billion of investment to control wastewater pollution for up to 20 years.

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that the nation needs $202.5 billion of investment to control wastewater pollution for up to 20 years.

The 2004 Clean Watersheds Needs Survey was EPA’s 14th report on the needs of publicly owned wastewater treatment works. The estimate includes $134.4 billion for wastewater treatment and collection systems, $54.8 billion for combined sewer overflow corrections, and $9 billion for stormwater management.

The agency said it is working with states, tribes, utilities, and other partners to reduce the demand on infrastructure through improved asset management, improved technology, water efficiency, and watershed–based decision making. It also is urging Congress to enact the Administration’s Water Enterprise Bond proposal.

It said the survey shows a $16.1 billion (8.6%) increase (in constant 2004 dollars) in needed investment over the 2000 report. EPA said the increase was due to a combination of population growth, more protective water quality standards, and aging infrastructure.

Subsequently, three congressmen asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study ways to meet the nation’s water infrastructure needs.

Requesting the report were James Oberstar (D–Minn.), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–Tex.) and Earl Blumenauer (D–Ore.).

“The EPA’s own data shows that the ever–increasing need for water infrastructure investment is not being met. It is imperative that we address this funding gap for water systems now and into the future, because our aging infrastructure is literally crumbling,” Oberstar said.

“To guarantee consistent long–term funding for water infrastructure, we must identify a dedicated source of revenue that is both logical and sustainable. We know it is possible, because we already have the Highway Trust Fund and Aviation Trust Fund. Once a sustainable funding source for water infrastructure investment is identified, I hope to take up legislation creating a new Clean Water Trust Fund in the next Congress.”

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) praised the study request. “Local communities already pay more than 95% of the cost of meeting their obligations under the Clean Water Act. Without a strong federal recommitment to clean water in the form of a trust fund, communities risk losing the gains they have made over the past 35 years to clean up the nation’s waters,” said Ken Kirk, NACWA executive director.

House Members Call for Study of Bottled Water Industry

Two House subcommittee leaders have asked the GAO to investigate how the growth of the bottled water industry has affected the quality of drinking water.

Reps. Al Wynn (D–Md.), chairman of the Environment and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, and Hilda Solis (D–Calif.), the vice chair, requested the GAO report. The subcommittee is an arm of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“In the past decade, sales of bottled water have reportedly tripled, but no one is examining the environmental ramifications of Americans shifting their water consumption from the traditional tap to the plastic bottle,” Wynn said.

The two lawmakers asked GAO to examine how increased bottled water consumption is impacting municipal landfill capacity and how the manufacture and transport of bottles affect energy use. They questioned the purity of bottled water and whether bottlers provide details about the water source on their labels.

“Many consumers think that when they buy bottled water, they are consuming water from a pristine natural source that is purer than tap water,” Wynn said. “However, recent media reports have exposed some companies simply bottling and selling tap water. GAO should examine how bottled water is labeled so we know consumers of bottled water are not being deceived.”

Reps. Wynn and Solis also asked GAO to examine EPA’s failure to update its drinking water standard for trichloroethylene (TCE). In 2001 EPA said TCE was far more likely to cause cancer than previously believed but it has not updated the drinking water standard for TCE.

The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) predicted the GAO report on bottled water would show that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state governments adequately regulate the industry.

It said the government should not target a single industry to reduce the environmental impact of packaging. It added that bottled water containers could be recycled through whatever system a local municipality has in place.

The group said that FDA has determined that source labeling for bottled water is not required if a brand is in compliance with the agency’s other rules. “FDA and state governments recognize groundwater and municipal water systems as legitimate and valid sources for bottled water production.

“Bottled water companies that use municipal source water treat and purify the water before it is bottled and delivered to consumers as a packaged food product. If a bottled water is sourced from a municipal water system and has not been further treated, FDA requires the label to state that it is from a municipal or community water system,” the bottled water group said.

Water Utilities Included In Anti–Terrorism Measure

Over protests from the water sector, a House homeland security panel has included water and wastewater utilities in chemical facility anti–terrorism legislation for the first time.

The bill, approved by the Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection Subcommittee, now goes to the Homeland Security Committee.

AWWA President Nilaksh Kothari has advised the full committee that the water sector is already covered by numerous federal, state, and local requirements relating to chemical security and chemical safety. He said including water systems in the legislation “unnecessarily duplicates existing federal programs and other protections in the water sector.”

Kothari noted that water utilities are not chemical facilities, provide an essential service (and not a product), and “use certain chemicals only because they are necessary for water or wastewater disinfection in order to provide vital public health and environmental benefits.”

The subcommittee’s bill also allowed the Department of Homeland Safety to mandate the use of “inherently safer technology,” processes that used less dangerous chemicals, to reduce the consequences of a terrorist attack.

Under the bill, water or wastewater utilities would be regulated if they used a specific quantity of any chemical of concern, or were near population centers.

The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) said the bill could impair the ability of local utility managers to properly disinfect their water. AMWA noted that water systems only use treatment chemicals when needed to meet the water quality requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act.

Regarding treatment processes, AMWA said, “Local water professionals and community leaders are best suited to determine appropriate water treatment processes.”

In other Washington news:

  • AWWA has named Gary J. Zimmerman as its new executive director. Zimmerman, 48, replaces Jack Hoffbuhr, who is retiring after 12 years at AWWA. Zimmerman previously was executive vice president of the Arabian Horse Association.
  • Earthjustice, a non–profit environmental law firm based in Oakland, Calif., said a poll shows that rural voters are concerned about pollution of waterways and water supplies. It polled 900 persons in rural areas of Illinois, Ohio, and Tennessee and said two–thirds expressed concern about drinking water pollution and a third were concerned about drinking tap water.
  • EPA has launched a “Green Infrastructure” plan to reduce storm water runoff and increase environmental and economic benefits for communities. It will promote techniques like green roofs, trees and tree boxes, rain gardens, and porous pavements.
  • The Awwa Research Foundation has issued a report on how hydrocarbons impact plastic pipes and gaskets used to distribute drinking water. It said in urban areas, plastic pipes and gaskets may come into contact with hydrocarbons that were spilled or have leaked from underground storage tanks or spills.

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