Water, Water, Everywhere, and Not a Drop in the Bucket, Either

A lot of those sinkholes you see on television swallowing station wagons are man-made. They’re sometimes the result of water and sewer systems deteriorating so badly that they collapse, bringing the roads, soil and cars on top down to their level.

On Friday, U.S. Rep. John Salazar (D.-Colo.) voted to authorize $14 billion over the next four years for the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund to shore up some of this failing infrastructure.“My constituents are concerned about their water supply, concerned that the aging infrastructure is threatening their water quality, concerned that their health is at risk, “Salazar said on the House floor. “This issue crosses lines of environment, health and human safety, growth and economic development.”

Around our house, $3.5 billion a year is a lot of money. But believe it or not, this is only about 14 percent of the funds actually needed to address the failing national water quality infrastructure.

In 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency found that the nation needs to budget $500 billion over the next 20 years — $25 billion a year — just to catch up with the problem.

All kinds of water facilities need to be replaced: pipes, treatment plants, sewers and so on. The problems are especially severe in the northeast and older industrial cities.  Chicago, for instance is spending $40 million a year to replace water mains.

  Tracy Mehan, former assistant administrator for water at EPA, says, “We’re going to see some increasing problems in not keeping up with population and economic growth, increasing levels of traditional kinds of pollution. If you freeze the frame now, we’re okay. But these things are aging.”

“The average American pays more for soft drinks, than for water and wastewater charges on an annual basis,” he says.

And the Clean Water Revolving Fund has been a political football. According to the Congressional Research Service, earmarking or diverting money from the fund has taken as much as 16 percent of the money, awarded on the basis of political clout, not on watershed priorities. CRS says the number of earmarks increased from 46 in 1995 to 669 in 2005.

Water Quality Financing Act of 2007 passed the House by a vote of 303-108.

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Dan Whipple

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