Safe Drinking Water Requires New Infrastructure Investments Over Next 20 Years

June 10, 2013

By Leslie Wollack

The nation will need $384 billion in drinking water infrastructure investments in order to provide safe drinking water to Americans until the year 2030, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A recent EPA survey identified 73,400 water systems across the country, in addition to American Indian and Alaska Native Village water systems.

As required by the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA estimates water infrastructure needs for public water systems every four years.
American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation's drinking water the grade of "D" in its 2013 update on infrastructure investment, estimating the $3.6 trillion would be needed to keep up with America's safe drinking water needs. ASCE noted that even though much of the drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life, the quality of drinking water remains high.

"A safe and adequate supply of drinking water in our homes, schools and businesses is essential to the health and prosperity of every American," EPA acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe said in a statement.

"This survey EPA released today shows that the nation's water systems have entered a rehabilitation and replacement era in which much of the existing infrastructure has reached or is approaching the end of its useful life. This is a major issue that must be addressed so that American families continue to have the access they need to clean and healthy water sources."

According to EPA, the survey looked at the funding and operational needs of more than 3,000 public drinking water systems across the United States, including those in Tribal communities. In many cases, drinking water infrastructure was reported to be 50-100 years old.

EPA found that improvements are primarily needed in:

- Distribution and transmission: $247.5 billion to replace or refurbish aging or deteriorating lines
- Treatment: $72.5 billion to construct expand or rehabilitate infrastructure to reduce contamination
- Storage: $39.5 billion to construct rehabilitate or cover finished water storage reservoirs
- Source: $20.5 billion to construct or rehabilitate intake structures, wells and spring collectors

The news from EPA comes as Congress continues to cut federal funds for local water infrastructure programs under the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. The Senate recently passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2013, S, 601, that would provide alternative financing options such as a pilot Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority (WIFIA), modeled after a transportation credit program for local governments and lifting limits on private activity bonds for funding water projects. The House is not expected to introduce a companion water infrastructure bill until later this summer.

The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund has provided close to $15 billion in grants to all 50 states and Puerto Rico to improve drinking water treatment, transmission and distribution since it was established in 1997 and provided more than $5.5 billion to protect drinking water in disadvantaged communities.

Details: For more information on EPA water funding: http://water.epa.gov/grants_funding/dwsrf/index.cfm