EPA Survey Reveals Huge Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs

March 27, 2009
The US Environmental Protection Agency has released results from its most recent Drinking Water Needs Survey, which documented a need to invest an estimated $334.8 billion over the next 20 years to deal with aging infrastructure.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has released results from its most recent Drinking Water Needs Survey, which documented a need to invest an estimated $334.8 billion over the next 20 years to deal with aging infrastructure.

The Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment, which is done every four years, reflects data collected in 2007 from states. The assessment documents anticipated costs for repairs and replacement of transmission and distribution pipes, storage and treatment equipment, and projects that are necessary to deliver safe supplies of drinking water.

Results from the assessment are used to develop a formula to distribute the agency's annual Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund monies. Approximately 52,000 community water systems and 21,400 not-for-profit non-community water systems are eligible to receive the loan and grant money.

In every assessment conducted to date, transmission and distribution projects have represented the largest category of need. This result is consistent with the fact that transmission and distribution mains account for most of the nation's drinking water infrastructure. The other categories, in descending order of need, are treatment, storage, source and a miscellaneous category of needs called "other."

This most recent finding is comparable to that of the 2003 assessment, when adjusted to 2007 dollars. The two assessments' findings of a large magnitude of national needs reflect the challenges confronting water systems as they deal with an infrastructure network that has aged considerably since these systems were constructed; in many cases, 50 to 100 years ago.

While the 2007 and 2003 findings are similar at the national level, there are significant shifts in the reported relative needs amongst the states. In large part, the shifts are due to normal fluctuations in the planning, initiation and completion of projects. However, in addition, the 2003 assessment reflected a greater flexibility given states and water systems in reporting their needs. The 2007 assessment reflects a policy, designed in consensus with the states, to apply much more consistent methodologies for estimating infrastructure needs across all states and surveyed water systems.

The report is developed in consultation with a workgroup of consisting state and water utility representatives. To conduct the survey, EPA selects a set number of systems to serve as a statistical representation of the industry. The Agency sends questionnaires to all of the nation's large water systems serving more than 100,000 people and a random sample to just over one-fourth of the medium systems serving more than 3,300 people.

For the smallest systems, serving fewer than 3300 people, EPA sent surveys to 600 randomly selected systems nationwide. For the first two surveys, EPA also questioned a representative number of community water systems serving fewer than 3,300 people - including American Indian and Alaskan Native Village systems. The 2007 response rate for all systems which received a questionnaire is high – 94.5%.

As directed by the SDWA, EPA uses the results of the survey to determine the allocation of the hundreds of million of annual DWSRF dollars to the states and tribes for helping build and improve the nation's infrastructure for delivering safe drinking water. A Federal Register notice announcing the revised allotment percentages based on the results of the most recent survey is released shortly after release of the report every four years.

For a detailed information on the Drinking Water Needs Survey, visit www.epa.gov/safewater/needsurvey.