27 Sep 2015

EPA: $1 trillion water investment needed for American population growth

 A new Associated Press project is highlighting the problems plaguing America's drinking water infrastructure, which is not aging gracefully.
Most people take the liquid on tap for granted, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency projects it will cost $384 billion over 20 years just to maintain the nation's existing drinking water infrastructure. Replacing pipes, treatment plants and other infrastructure as well as expanding water systems to handle population growth could cost as much as $1 trillion.
Without that investment, industry groups warn of a future with more infrastructure failures that will disrupt service, transportation and commerce.
Michigan residents have seen these troubles firsthand in cities like Detroit, Bay City and Flint, the latter of which is now dealing with increased lead levels in drinking water after switching to the Flint River as a source last year. Officials say the corrosiveness of river water on pipes is greater than Lake Huron water, which had been used for 50-plus years. 
Below are national highlights from the AP reporting.
• The U.S Conference of Mayors says that nationwide spending by local governments on all water-supply projects nearly doubled to $19 billion between 2000 and 2012. Despite a slowdown in recent years, spending remains at an all-time high, according to a recent conference report. "We have a real dilemma on our hands," said report author Richard Anderson. "We know we need to increase spending on water, but many houses can't afford it and Congress won't increase funding."
• In Toledo, the city has spent $5 million in the past year to improve its ability to cleanse water from Lake Erie after a toxic algal bloom shut the water system down for two days last year. Toledo is planning a $350 million system revamp that includes using ozone gas to destroy toxins produced by the algae. A 56 percent water customer rate increase is footing most of the bill.
• Nearly $1.1 billion is sitting unspent in federal Drinking Water State Revolving Fund accounts as of Aug. 1 despite a demand for assistance that far exceeds the money available. Reasons for the backlog include structural problems and poor management by some states, which are using the money on other drinking water services instead of paying for replacement of leaky pipes, deteriorating treatment plants and century-old storage tanks. Congress is considering a deep cut in the $900 million annual program next year.
• If you pay for water service, expect to see that bill increase as time goes by. Nationwide, water rates are increasing and experts say the trend will accelerate as the price of water treatment and delivery begin to more accurately reflect the full expense of sorely needed infrastructure improvements. A year ago, the average monthly household water bill was just over $34 based on an average usage of 7,480 gallons, according to an American Water Works Association survey. That's up more than 40 percent since 2008, or $10 per month.
• In a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office survey, 40 of 50 state water managers said they anticipate some supply shortages over the next decade. Yet water problems in the U.S. are less an issue of supply than distribution. Far more precipitation falls from the sky across the country during an average year than is used. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated total average water use in the Lower 48 states for everything but energy production was about 70 trillion gallons in 2010. About 24 times that amount falls as rain in an average year. However, there's little political will or funding to expand the kind of water storage and distribution systems that fed the growth and agricultural boom in the West.
• The EPA says a new rule to keep pollution from reaching small streams, tributaries and wetlands will safeguard drinking water sources across the country, but the regulation has been vociferously opposed by farm groups and Republicans who say it allows federal regulation of almost every stream and ditch on rural lands. Michigan and 30 other states have filed lawsuits. State officials say Michigan is unique in the debate because it's one of two states with delegated authority to regulate waters under federal jurisdiction.
• In the Midwest, where water shortages are not typically a concern, more attention is being paid to farming's effect on drinking water supplies. Minnesota's governor this year ordered farmers to plant vegetation instead of crops along rivers, streams and ditches to filter runoff. The water utility in Des Moines, Iowa, is suing three rural counties to force tighter regulations on farm discharges. And in the wake of Toledo's water crisis, Ohio has put limits on when and where farmers can spread fertilizer and manure on fields.

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