Study: U.S. Cities Need New Pipes


Tuesday, February 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


WASHINGTON (AP) — Water and sewer bills, on average, will have to double without a big federal investment in new pipes and modern treatment plants, local government and water agency officials warned in releasing a new study on the issue Tuesday

Deteriorating pipes and new environmental regulations have become so expensive that the federal government must step in, said Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, president of the National League of Cities.

``This is very serious,'' he said. ``It is a local responsibility, and we have been living up to our responsibility. ... Our cities can't do it alone.''

Nationwide, Archer said, water and sewer bills have been making yearly leaps that average 6 percent above inflation.

The league and 28 other organizations are urging Congress to put up $57 billion over the next five years to help localities meet environmental requirements, replace old pipes and upgrade their plants.

``Local governments alone cannot keep pace with the skyrocketing costs of new drinking water and wastewater infrastructure,'' agreed William Schatz of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District in Cleveland.

Local governments and individual ratepayers currently bear about 90 percent of the cost of providing clean tap water and running wastewater systems, said Schatz, who has been lobbying on behalf of the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies for more federal dollars.

Keeping up with the nation's water and sewer needs will cost $1 trillion over the next 20 years, say private and government studies. That's about $23 billion a year more than already is being spent by state and local governments and ratepayers combined.

``Financing the full $23 billion a year need with utility rate increases would result in a doubling of rates, on average, across the nation,'' the report says. ``If this were to happen, at least a third of the population of the U.S. would face economic hardship.''

Experts predict an acute need for repairs and replacement of water and sewer facilities because many of the nation's wastewater treatment plants were built at roughly the same time — in the 1970s and early 1980s — with roughly a 30- to 40-year life span.

Those plants connect to underground pipes whose 50- to 75-year average life spans are ending or, in the oldest cities, to cast iron or brick pipes laid about 100 years ago and nearing the end of their useful lives.

Congress has begun to recognize the looming problem, but so far there have been few moves in the direction sought by Archer, Schatz and the numerous interest groups working together as the Water Infrastructure Network.

Last year, Congress created a $1.5 billion, two-year grant program to help municipalities deal with part of the infrastructure problem — combined systems that use the same conduits for sewage and rainwater.

Last week, Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, proposed a $15 billion, five-year program to deal with other wastewater infrastructure improvements, but he said Monday he knows that won't be enough to make all the needed improvements.

``Additional solutions need to be found,'' Voinovich said. ``The size of the need continues to be enormous and the safety of our water supply and the environment cannot be ignored.''

The groups lobbying together for a massive federal investment suggested a variety of proposals, including grants and loans, loan subsidies and research into ways to extend the lifespan of existing infrastructure.

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On the Net:

Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies: http://www.amsa-cleanwater.org/

National League of Cities: http://www.nlc.org

Text of Voinovich's bill: http://voinovich.senate.gov/pr-010206.b.html