Update: Civil engineers give nation's infrastructure a D+

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) today released its 2001 Report Card for America's Infrastructure in which the nation's infrastructure received a cumulative grade of 'D+' for twelve infrastructure areas.

WASHINGTON, DC, March 8, 2001 (PRNewswire) — The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) today released its 2001 Report Card for America's Infrastructure in which the nation's infrastructure received a cumulative grade of "D+" for twelve infrastructure areas.

Causes for such a dismal grade include: explosive population growth and school enrollment which outpace the rate and impact of current investment and maintenance efforts; local political opposition and red tape which stymie the development of effective solutions; and the growing obsolescence of an aging system — evident in the breakdown of California's electrical generation system and the nation's decaying water infrastructure.

"When you've got rolling blackouts in California, bridges crumbling in Milwaukee, and kids in Kansas City attending class in a former boys' restroom, something is desperately wrong," says ASCE President Robert W. Bein, a civil engineer from Irvine, California. "The solutions to these problems involve more than money, but as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. America has been seriously under-investing in its infrastructure for decades and this report card reflects that."

The National League of Cities (NLC) released a report simultaneously entitled Six Critical Threats to Our Cities: The Keys to America's Future. The report identified an aging infrastructure as a key threat to America's future. "America's cities and towns hold the key to the quality of life we enjoy in the future," said Detroit's Mayor and NLC President Dennis W. Archer. "However, without a healthy infrastructure that future and our economy is jeopardized."

To remedy America's current and looming problem, ASCE estimates a needed $1.3 trillion investment over the next five years and calls for a renewed partnership between citizens, local, state and federal governments, and the private sector.

The 2001 Report Card follows one released in 1998, at which time the ten infrastructure categories rated were given an average grade of "D."

While there have since been some efforts to address infrastructure shortfalls, ASCE's analysis shows that conditions remain basically the same.

Five categories have gone up slightly but are still average or below. Grades in three categories — transit, aviation and wastewater — have gone down. The evaluation of two new infrastructure areas, navigable waterways and energy, have kept the grade point average low.

Wastewater declined from a "D+" in 1998 to a "D," while drinking water remained a "D." Wastewater and drinking water systems are both quintessential examples of aged systems that need to be updated. For example, some sewer systems are 100 years old. Aged drinking water systems are structurally obsolete. The shortfall of $11 billion for drinking water and $12 billion in wastewater only account for improvements to the current system and do not even take into consideration the demands of a growing population.

Navigable waterways, the other newly evaluated category, posted a grade of "D+." Navigable waterways encompass the nation's ports, harbor channels, and inland, intracoastal and coastal waterways. Together, this network of waterways moves 2.3 billion tons of commercial goods. In the past 30 years, capital investment for public water resources has decreased 70 percent. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a $38 billion backlog of authorized projects, which would take 25 years to complete at current funding levels.

"As dismal as these grades seem, many of the downward trends can be reversed with increased funding and a renewed partnership between citizens, local, state and federal governments," says ASCE Executive Director James E. Davis, P.E. "As a nation, we have taken for granted that our lights will turn on, our roads and bridges won't crumble beneath us and that we'll have clean and safe water when we're thirsty. Without adequate resources, we cannot implement appropriate solutions."

"With a projected Federal budget surplus of $5.6 trillion dollars, our leaders in Congress have the funds needed to restore our ailing infrastructure," adds Bein. "Without these resources, we gamble America's prosperity on an infrastructure whose pipes, schools, and airports are literally at the bursting point."

The infrastructure areas for the Report Card were assessed by an advisory panel comprised of 11 eminent civil engineers representing the broad spectrum of civil engineering. Each category was evaluated on the basis of condition and performance, capacity versus need, and funding versus need.

Founded in 1852, ASCE represents more than 123,000 civil engineers worldwide and is America's oldest national engineering society. In 2002, the Society will celebrate its 150th anniversary. ASCE is a not-for-profit, 501©(3) organization.

For more information, including examples of the condition of infrastructure locally and state statistics for many of the infrastructure areas cited in the 2001 Report Card for America's Infrastructure, please check our Web site at http://www.asce.org/reportcard .

ASCE Fact Sheet on Wastewater

Conditions
Although the federal government has spent more than $71 billion on wastewater treatment programs since 1973, the nation's 16,000 wastewater systems still face enormous infrastructure funding needs in the next 20 years to replace pipes and other constructed facilities that have exceeded their design life. With billions being spent yearly for wastewater infrastructure, the systems face a shortfall of at least $12 billion annually to replace aging facilities and comply with existing and future federal water regulations. The total does not account for any growth in demand from new systems.

Funding has remained flat for a decade. In Fiscal Year 2001, Congress appropriated $1.35 billion for wastewater infrastructure, which represents about 11% of the annual need nationally. Requirements for communities that have not yet achieved secondary treatment or must upgrade existing facilities remain very high: $126 billion nationwide is required by 2016, according to the most recent estimate by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The largest need, $45 billion, is for projects to control combined sewer overflows. The second largest category of needs, at $27 billion, is for new or improved secondary treatment (the basic statutory requirement of the Clean Water Act). In addition to costs documented by EPA, states estimate an additional $34 billion in wastewater treatment needs for projects that do not meet EPA documentation criteria but, nevertheless, represent a potential demand on state resources.

Between 35% and 45% of U.S. surface waters do not meet current water-quality standards. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, sewer overflows are a chronic and growing problem. Many of the nation's urban sewage collection systems are aging; some sewers are 100 years old. Many systems have not received the essential maintenance and repairs necessary to keep them working properly. Pending federal regulations to manage sanitary sewer overflows (SSO) would impose an additional total cost for all municipalities of $93.5 million to $126.5 million each year.

Without a significantly enhanced federal role in providing assistance to wastewater infrastructure, critical investments will not occur. Possible solutions include grants, trust funds, loans, and incentives for private investment. The question is not whether the federal government should take more responsibility for drinking-water and wastewater improvements, but how.

Policy Options
New solutions are needed to what amounts to a nearly trillion dollars uncritical drinking water and wastewater investments over the next two decades. Not meeting the investment needs of the next 20 years risks reversing the public health, environmental, and economic gains of the last three decades.

The case for federal investment is compelling. Needs are large and unprecedented; in many locations, local sources cannot be expected to meet this challenge alone; and because waters are shared across local and state boundaries, the benefits of federal help will accrue to the entire nation. Clean and safe water is no less a national priority than are national defense, an adequate system of interstate highways, and a safe and efficient aviation system. These latter infrastructure programs enjoy sustainable, long-term federal grant programs; under current policy, water and wastewater infrastructure do not.

Equally compelling is the case for flexibility in the forms of federal investment including grants, loans, and other forms of assistance. Grants will be needed for many communities that simply cannot afford to meet public health, environmental, and/or service-level requirements. Loans and credit enhancements may be sufficient for other types of communities with greater economies of scale, wealthier populations, and/or fewer assets per capita to replace.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recommends that funding for water infrastructure system improvements and associated operations be provided by a comprehensive program.

Specific Recommendations Supported by ASCE:

* Congressional appropriations of $11 billion-$12 billion annually for immediate wastewater infrastructure repairs and system upgrades.

* Creation of a water trust fund to finance the national shortfall in funding for water and wastewater infrastructure. These trust funds should not be diverted for non-water purposes.

* Issuance of revenue bonds and tax exempt financing at state and local levels, as well as public-private partnerships, state infrastructure banks, and other innovative financing mechanisms.

Sources

* Water Infrastructure Network (WIN), Clean and Safe Water for the 21st Century, April 2000.

* WIN, Water Infrastructure NOW, February 2001.

* U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Water Quality Inventory: 1998 Report to Congress, October 2000.

* U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Liquid Assets 2000, June 2000.

* U.S. Senate, Water Infrastructure: Hearing Before the Committee on Environment and Public Works, October 7, 1999.

* Congressional Research Service, Wastewater Treatment: Overview and Background, January 1999.

* ASCE Policy Statement 480 "Clean Water Infrastructure Financing," 2000.

* ASCE Policy Paper 420 "Clean Water Act Reauthorization," 1998.

* ASCE Policy Statement 326 "Wastewater Facilities Construction Funding," 2000.

* ASCE Policy Statement 302 "Cost Sharing in Water Programs," 1999.

* ASCE Policy Statement 312 " Cooperation on Water Resource Project," 1997.

* ASCE Policy Statement 328 " Energy and Water Project Financing," 1996.

* ASCE Policy Statement 332 "Water Reuse," 1998.

* ASCE Policy Statement 337 "Water Conservation," 1998.

* ASCE Policy Statement 395 "Control of Combined Sewer Discharge," 2000.

* ASCE Policy Statement 429 "Municipal Wastewater Biosolids," 2000.

* ASCE Policy Statement 441 "Storm Water Management," 1998.

* ASCE Policy Statement 461 " Rural Nonpoint Source Water Quality," 2000.

ASCE Fact Sheet on Drinking Water

Conditions
The nation's 54,000 drinking water systems face staggering infrastructure funding needs over the next 20 years. Although America spends billions on infrastructure each year, drinking water faces an annual shortfall of at least $11 billion to replace aging facilities that are near the end of their useful life and to comply with existing and future federal water regulations. The shortfall does not account for any growth in the demand for drinking water over the next 20 years.

Although the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996 (SDWA) authorized the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to spend $1 billion annually to construct and repair drinking water facilities, Congress has failed to appropriate the full amount. In FY 2001, the appropriated amount is $825 million, 82.5% of the authorized total, representing less than ten percent of the total amount needed this year.

In January 1997, EPA presented to Congress the first drinking water needs survey, that indicated the nation's 54,000 community water systems will need to invest $138.4 billion over the next 20 years to install, upgrade, or replace infrastructure to ensure the provision of safe drinking water to these systems' 243 million customers. That estimate is expected to reach $300 billion in the next EPA survey due out later in 2001.

Of the 1997 estimate, about $12.1 billion was needed for treatment to comply with existing SDWA regulations; treatment for microbiological contaminants accounts for $10.2 billion (84%) of the current SDWA need. To take a recent example, the total national annualized costs of treatment, monitoring, reporting, recordkeeping, and administration under the new standard for arsenic issued in January 2001 will be approximately $181 million; the total treatment cost will be another $177 million per year. Annual monitoring and administrative costs will be about $2.7 million and states' costs will be about $1 million.

Despite the great need for replacement pipes and related infrastructure, health-based violations of federal drinking water standards are declining steadily according to data from the EPA. In 1993, 79% of Americans were served by water systems that did not experience health-based violations. By 2000, that number rose to 91%.

Nevertheless, without a significantly enhanced federal role in providing assistance to drinking water infrastructure, critical investments will not occur. Possible solutions include grants, trust funds, loans, and incentives for private investment. The question is not whether the federal government should take more responsibility for drinking water improvements, but how.

Policy Options
New solutions are needed to what amounts to a nearly trillion dollars uncritical drinking water and wastewater investments over the next two decades. Not meeting the investment needs of the next 20 years risks reversing the public health, environmental, and economic gains of the last three decades.

The case for federal investment is compelling. Needs are large and unprecedented; in many locations, local sources cannot be expected to meet this challenge alone; and because waters are shared across local and state boundaries, the benefits of federal help will accrue to the entire nation. Clean and safe water is no less a national priority than are national defense, an adequate system of interstate highways, and a safe and efficient aviation system. These latter infrastructure programs enjoy sustainable, long-term federal grant programs; under current policy, water and wastewater infrastructure do not.

Equally compelling is the case for flexibility in the forms of federal investment including grants, loans, and other forms of assistance. Grants will be needed for many communities that simply cannot afford to meet public health, environmental, and/or service-level requirements. Loans and credit enhancements may be sufficient for other types of communities with greater economies of scale, wealthier populations, and/or fewer assets per capita to replace.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recommends that funding for water infrastructure system improvements and associated operations be provided by a comprehensive program.

Specific Recommendations Supported by ASCE:

* Funding equal to the entire $1 billion annually authorized under the current State Revolving Loan Funds (SRFs) program in the Safe Drinking Water Act.

* Creation of a water trust fund to finance the national shortfall in funding for water and wastewater infrastructure. These trust funds should not be diverted for non-water purposes.

* Federal appropriations from general treasury funds and issuance of revenue bonds and tax exempt financing at the state and local levels, as well as public-private partnerships, state infrastructure banks, and other innovative financing mechanisms.

Sources

* U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Safe Drinking Water Information System, January 2001.

* U.S. EPA, National Water Quality Inventory: 1998 Report to Congress, October 2000.

* U.S. EPA, Liquid Assets 2000, June 2000.

* Water Infrastructure Network (WIN), Clean and Safe Water for the 21st Century, April 2000.

* WIN, Water Infrastructure NOW, February 2001.

* U.S. General Accounting Office, Drinking Water: Spending Constraints Could Affect States' Ability to Implement Increasing Program Requirements, August 2000.

* Congressional Research Service, Safe Drinking Water Act, June 1997.

* ASCE Policy Statement 480 "Clean Water Infrastructure Financing," 2000.

* ASCE Policy Statement 361 "Implementation of Safe Drinking Water Regulations," 1999.

* ASCE Policy Statement 302 "Cost Sharing in Water Programs," 1999.

* ASCE Policy Statement 312 " Cooperation on Water Resource Project," 1997.

* ASCE Policy Statement 328 " Energy and Water Project Financing," 1996.

* ASCE Policy Statement 332 "Water Reuse," 1998.

* ASCE Policy Statement 337 "Water Conservation," 1998.

* ASCE Policy Statement 461 " Rural Nonpoint Source Water Quality," 2000.

SOURCE: American Society of Civil Engineers

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