Cansler Consulting is staying on top of the drinking water infrastructure challenges faced by our country and how the the government is responding to it now and in the future.
The next EPA assessment should be released in 2017.
If history of the previous EPA assessments continue to repeat, there will likely be significant changes in some states’ needs in the new EPA assessment in 2017. These changes will result in adjustments to individual states’ DWSRF financial allotments. Most shifts in states’ needs can be attributed to expected changes in the status of projects from one survey to the next.
Overall there is no anticipation of the 2017 assessment reflecting a reduced level of need in water infrastructure improvements across the U.S. The 2011 assessment made it clear that as U.S. water infrastructure continues to age and deteriorate many water systems are using asset management strategies to better understand and address their infrastructure rehabilitation and replacement challenges. However, it should be noted that EPA received information and documentation in 2011 from water systems that indicated a significant gap existing between information about their inventory of infrastructure and their knowledge of that infrastructure’s condition or remaining useful life. Given this, and the 2014-16 events involving the Flint, Michigan drinking water crisis, one could anticipate the EPA 2017 assessment showing greater water infrastructure improvement needs in the U.S. than in the past.
March 2016 Congressional Hearing
Below is a more recent exchange that occurred between Congressman Mike Simpson (R-ID) and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy during a U.S. House hearing before the Subcommittee on Interior and Environment Appropriations on March 22, 2016 that highlights the gravity of the challenges ahead.
Mr. Simpson: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Welcome back to our committee it’s always an exciting time when the Environmental Protection Agency comes before our committee….. I watched with some interest the hearing last week with the Government Oversight Committee with you and Governor Snyder of Michigan. Quite frankly I was dismayed. There is a lot of finger-pointing going on and a lot of finger-pointing that’s going to be going on for quite some time. There are sure to be books that will be written about the Flint, MI crisis and what should have been done. The problem is this doesn’t solve the problem. What we need to do is solve the problem.
What I would like to know from you is what should the City of Flint, the state of Michigan and the federal government be doing to address this problem in Flint and the lessons learned from this because from what I understand there’s as many as 2000 communities out there that might be facing the same types of situations. If you could in that answer also tell me if people have the solid background on what is the demand in water and sewer systems in the U.S., and you know what the total backlog of maintenance of water and sewer systems is in the country and how much the federal government, along with state and local government spend trying to address that backlog each year? At the rate we’re going it’s going to take 100 years to address the backlog that exist today.
EPA Administrator McCarthy: First thank you for talking about Flint, Michigan and some of the things that went wrong there. I think everybody needs to be accountable for this including the Environmental Protection Agency in terms of how we respond.
But getting to the crux of the matter Flint, Michigan was a fairly unique situation. So while we are active, I have written to every State’s governor and every primacy agency and all EPA Regional agencies are working on many of the 68,000 systems that are actually regulated under the lead and copper rule to take a look at where they are in their process and how do we get more transparent. If people have lost faith in their government then let’s put the information out there and let’s make sure they’re following protocols. Let’s map where those little lines are and let’s really get more serious about this and more transparent.
EPA continues working hand-in-hand with the state and the cities that continue to have challenges. This is not an easy issue and it’s going to take a while and we have 10 million lead lines out there. So it’s a challenge just to make sure that the water is properly treated but it’s also over time getting at those little lines that are going to be essential.
EPA is also working on the lead and copper rule, making sure we are implementing and strengthening that rule.
We are looking at a significant challenge in terms of water infrastructure. It’s important for us not to just look at lead but at the system itself. Because if you look at Flint, that was only part of the challenge. It was twice as big as it needed to be because of disinvestment. It hasn’t been invested in decades! And so you have a system problem that is essential to correct and I think it’s going to take a while before Flint is back in action. EPA will get the system stabilized as to corrosion control but beyond this there’s more work to be done.
Across the U.S. we took a look at this in 2011 and 2012 and we estimated that the backlog of need for drinking water up through 2030 was something in the order of $300 some-odd billion. I do not have the exact figure in my head but I think that is a lowball estimate now. There are others that are now estimating it’s upwards of $600 billion.
Mr. Simpson: this is in water systems?
Administrator McCarthy: this is drinking water systems.
So you can see we have a real challenge here. We have technologies (deployed) that were done in the 1950s and earlier. So we need to keep up on our investment. We have new emerging concerns like arsenic; how are we going to get those small systems because the technology is expensive. We also have new contaminants coming in like PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid) and PFOS (Perfluorooctane Sulfonate) all these chemicals that we’re finding in pharmaceuticals. We need not just an upgrade of what used to be but we need technologies developed they can actually address the problems of today and in the future.
So we have some real challenges. It’s very good for the Environmental Protection Agency to have $2 billion and to be able to shift that to get more into drinking water but there does need to be a larger conversation about how we keep this core need for people.
EPA Funding Now, and in the Future
The past 17 fiscal years, 2000-2017, covers the final year under President Bill Clinton, eight years under republican President George W. Bush and eight years under the current U.S. President Barrack Obama. During the same time frame republicans in Congress held majorities in both legislative chambers, the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate in 1999-2001 and 2003-2007. Democrats held majorities in both chambers 2007-2011. In the remaining 8-yr period Congress was divided with each of the major political parties holding a majority in either the House or Senate.
Yet, with fluctuations in party control of the administration and congress over FY’s 2000-2017 the EPA budget has relatively held stable to slightly increasing. That’s hard to believe given the sorted history of strained relationships between EPA and Congress over multiple policy differences.
For the past four fiscal years 2013-16 the EPA total budget has averaged just over $8.1 billion. Of this about half, or $4 billion has been allocated to protecting U.S. water. In FY 2017, about one-quarter of these funds, or just over $1 billion, will be directed to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund that supports new infrastructure improvement projects for public drinking water systems to help ensure water is safe to drink and to address the U.S.’ aging drinking water infrastructure. In addition, EPA will begin to use Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation funds totaling $15 million for credit subsidies that translate into a potential loan capacity of nearly $1 billion to eligible entities for infrastructure projects.
In previous blog articles on the U.S. Budget and U.S. debt we have pointed out that federal lawmakers will ultimately need to make tough decisions prioritizing the nation’s multiple and costly challenges ahead. There will be no “honeymoon period” for the new administration that will be inaugurated at the beginning of 2017. The U.S debt limit will need to be increased beyond $19.4 trillion no later than March 2017.
We believe lawmakers will include improving the nation’s deteriorating drinking water infrastructure as one of the top national priorities.
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