Report to Congress Highlights Need for Long-Term Clean Water Funding

The Environmental Protection Agency’s latest Clean Watersheds Needs survey has projected a shortfall of $298.1 billion over the next 20 years for clean water infrastructure, up 17% from the previous survey four years ago.

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

The Environmental Protection Agency’s latest Clean Watersheds Needs survey has projected a shortfall of $298.1 billion over the next 20 years for clean water infrastructure, up 17% from the previous survey four years ago.

EPA said the figure represents the capital needed for publicly owned wastewater collection systems and treatment facilities, combined sewer overflow connections, and stormwater management as of Jan. 1, 2008.

The report to Congress said the increased needs "are mainly for improvements to rehabilitate aging infrastructure, to meet more protective water quality standards, and to respond to and prepare for population growth."

It said the needs for wastewater treatment, pipe repairs and new pipes were $187.9 billion, an increase of $28.6 billion (18%) from 2004.

Needs for recycled water distribution were $4.4 billion, down $0.7 billion (14%), while requirements for correcting combined sewer overflows are $63.6 billion, down $1.4 billion (2%).

The EPA report said needs for stormwater management were $42.3 billion, including $7.6 billion for conveyance infrastructure, $7.4 billion for treatment systems and $17.4 billion for green infrastructure. They represented an increase of $16.9 billion (67%).

EPA said small communities need $22.7 billion, or 8% of the total documented requirements.

"This report makes it clear that the federal government must become a long-term partner in developing a sustainable funding mechanism to address the growing infrastructure funding gap," a spokesman for the National Association of Clean Water Agencies said in a news release.

NACWA has proposed that Congress create a clean water trust fund to provide reliable water infrastructure funding.

Stormwater Fees

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has introduced a bill to mandate that the federal government to pay reasonable fees for stormwater services provided by local utilities.

The bill stipulated that local fees charged for the control and abatement of water pollution, including stormwater management fees, are not a tax and therefore federal agencies must pay them under Section 313 of the Clean Water Act.

The issue gained attention in April when the General Services Administration declared that federal facilities in Washington, D.C., are not required to pay fees levied by the local municipal sewer authority because they would be an unconstitutional tax on the federal government.

NACWA supports Cardin’s bill

"We believe the refusal of the federal government to pay for a critically important local environmental service is not only legally unjustified but also significantly undercuts the administration’s commitment to improve water quality throughout the nation," said NACWA executive director Ken Kirk.

A recent NACWA survey found that while most federal facilities currently pay for local clean water services, a growing number are contesting those charges as unconstitutional.

USGS Well Survey

The U.S. Geological Survey has reported that more than 20% of untreated water samples from 932 public wells across the nation contained at least one contaminant at levels of potential health concern.

It said that 105 million people, more than a third of the nation’s population, receive their drinking water from one of the 140,000 public water systems across the U.S. that use groundwater pumped from public wells.

The study focused primarily on source (untreated) water collected from public wells before treatment or blending, rather than the finished (treated) drinking water that utilities deliver to their customers.

USGS said the findings showed that naturally occurring contaminants, such as radon and arsenic, accounted for about three-quarters of contaminant concentrations greater than human-health benchmarks in untreated source water. Man-made contaminants were also found in untreated water sampled from the public wells, including herbicides, insecticides, solvents, disinfection by-products, nitrate, and gasoline chemicals. Man-made contaminants accounted for about one-quarter of contaminant concentrations greater than human-health benchmarks, but were detected in 64% of the samples, predominantly in samples from unconfined aquifers.

USGS said that detection of contaminants do not necessarily indicate a concern for human health because the agency’s analytical methods can detect many contaminants at concentrations that are 100-fold to 1,000-fold lower than human-health benchmarks.

Wells included in the study were located in 41 states and withdraw water from parts of 30 regionally extensive aquifers, which were about half of the principal aquifers used for water supply in the U.S.

KC, MO, Cleanup

Kansas City, Mo. will spend more than $2.5 billion over 25 years to eliminate unauthorized overflows of untreated raw sewage and to reduce pollution levels in urban stormwater.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency said the pledge was in a consent decree filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. Kansas City also will pay a $600,000 fine.

Kansas City’s overflow control plan would repair, modify and rebuild its sewer system. It will use natural or engineered "green infrastructure," such as green roofs, rain gardens and permeable pavement, to minimize stormwater burdens on the improved system.

As part of the consent agreement, Kansas City will spend $1.6 million on a supplemental environmental project to implement a voluntary sewer connection and septic tank closure program for income-eligible residential property owners who elect to close their septic tanks and connect to the public sewer.

Kansas City’s sewer system collects domestic, commercial and industrial wastewater from 650,000 people in the city and 27 neighboring satellite communities. The system is one of the largest in the nation, covering more than 420 square miles and including seven wastewater treatment plants, 38 pumping stations and more than 2,800 miles of sewer lines.

EPA said since 2002, Kansas City has experienced 1,294 illegal sewer overflows, including at least 138 unpermitted combined sewer overflows, 390 sanitary sewer overflows, and 766 backups in buildings and private properties. The overflows discharged 7 billion gallons of raw sewage per year into local streams and rivers.

In other Washington news:

-- The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies has urged the Senate to amend climate change legislation with a provision to help utilities prepare for climate change. It and the National Association of Clean Water Agencies have estimated U.S. water utilities may have to spend nearly $1 trillion on climate adaptation costs through 2050.

-- The annual report of the President’s Cancer Panel has recommended that consumers use home water filtering devices to decrease exposure to cancer-causing agents.

-- The International Bottled Water Association has reported that bottled water consumption fell 2.5% to 8.66 billion gallons in 2009. That was less than the 2.7% drop in the total U.S. refreshment beverage market.

-- EPA planed a rulemaking to protect the environment and public health from the harmful effects of sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) and basement backups. It said in many cities, SSOs and basement backups occur because of blockages, broken pipes and excessive water flowing into the pipes.

-- The agency said Oswego, N.Y., will make $87 million in improvements to its west side sewer system to reduce combined sewer overflows. The city also will pay a $99,000 fine.

-- EPA has added showerheads to its WaterSense program, which identifies products that are at least 20% more water efficient as standard models. It said last year the WaterSense program helped consumers save more than 36 billion gallons of water and $267 million on water and sewer bills.

-- EPA said the Williamsport, Pa., Sanitary Authority will make $10 million in improvements to its combined sewer system to end overflows to the Susquehanna River. It also will pay a civil penalty of $320,000.

-- EPA has approved 12 alternative testing methods for use in measuring the levels of contaminants in drinking water and determining compliance with national primary drinking water regulations.

-- The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has launched a program to help small communities in rural areas to assess their potable water supply needs and identify solutions. The program will not fund construction.

-- EPA will give Junction City, Kan., $242,000 to improve its drinking water with flow meters and an enhanced disinfection system.

-- The Consortium for Energy Efficiency and the Water Environment Federation have released a guidance to help water and wastewater utilities include energy efficiency requirements in solicitations.

-- EPA has issued a proposed revised total coliform rule that sets a MCLG and MCL for E. coli. It also eliminates the MCLG and MCL for total coliform, replacing it with a treatment technique for total coliform that requires assessment and corrective action.

-- Joseph Mantua has assumed the presidency of the American Water Works Association. Mantua, a Black & Veatch client services manager, will serve a one-year term.

-- The Water Environment Federation has begun a search for an executive director to replace Bill Bertera, who will leave the organization Dec. 31.

-- EPA has issued a strategy for reducing water pollution in the 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed. It will require better environmental practices on 4 million acres of farms and the conservation of 2 million acres of undeveloped land.
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