Investments Needed to Protect Clean Water

It costs money to maintain clean water. Image from VPR.

The problems associated with aging wastewater infrastructure are daunting and many of our neglected systems need maintenance and repairs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released their 2012 Clean Water Needs Survey that identifies the need for $271-billion nationwide for wastewater and stormwater upgrades. In Vermont the assessed need is $154-million while in New York the price tag is estimated at $31-billion.

The Clean Water Needs Survey is a comprehensive assessment of the capital costs (or needs) to meet the water quality goals of the Clean Water Act and address water quality and water quality related public health concerns. Capital needs for wastewater and stormwater are largely focused on pipes, treatment systems and meeting federal stormwater requirements. Every four years, the states and EPA collect information about publicly owned wastewater collection and treatment facilities, stormwater and combined sewer overflow control facilities, nonpoint source pollution control projects, and decentralized wastewater management.

For both Vermont and New York the largest need was associated with secondary wastewater treatment (44.2 and 35.5% respectively). The second highest category in Vermont was for construction of new wastewater conveyance systems (28.0%) while in New York the second highest category was combined sewer overflow corrections (16.3%). Half of all New York wastewater and stormwater facilities and about 40% of Vermont facilities have officially documented needs.

Public infrastructure investments are good for the environment and good for the community. The National Association of Clean Water Agencies has estimated that each $1-billion invested in clean water infrastructure supports the creation of more than 47,000 jobs. Our society needs to invest in its water infrastructure if we have any hope of protecting water quality and dealing with water pollution problems around the country.