[IWAR] INFRASTRUCTURE cost of clean water

From: Michael Wilson (MWILSON/0005514706at_private)
Date: Sat Dec 27 1997 - 09:42:05 PST

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                        Costs are going up for pure, clear water
          Copyright ) 1997 Nando.net
          Copyright ) 1997 Governing Magazine
       (December 27, 1997 00:24 a.m. EST http://www.nando.net) - From crowded
       cities to rural villages, from wealthy suburbs to ramshackle trailer
       parks, an essential component for a livable community is clean drinking
       water. And Americans everywhere take its availability for granted.
       Maybe they shouldn't. Around the country, public officials are finding
       it hard to live up to that trust. State and local agencies are facing
       persistent financial and technical barriers to supplying safe drinking
       The nation's 55,000 community water systems need to spend $12.1 billion
       to install or upgrade treatment plants, storage tanks and pipes just to
       correct contamination problems that have already been identified. Over
       the next two decades, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection
       Agency (EPA) survey released earlier this year, they'll need to invest
       another $126.3 billion to replace aging infrastructure and comply with
       the evolving standards set by federal regulators.
       Congress set up $9.6 billion in state loan funds to help communities
       finance badly needed drinking water improvements. But that money has to
       be repaid, and homeowners and business owners are likely to rebel
       against the higher water bills that both private and government-owned
       utilities will have to charge to cover the compliance costs.
       Although big-city and suburban systems will bear the largest percentage
       of the costs, predominantly rural states will have a more difficult time
       financing the improvements that isolated small-town water utilities will
       be forced to undertake. Even in Vermont, a still-rural state whose
       588,000 residents live amidst a green landscape of thick forests,
       sparkling lakes and rushing mountain streams, "there are a lot of
       stresses on our water," says Sandra Levine, a Conservation Law
       Foundation attorney in Montpelier.
       First enacted in 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act empowered EPA to set
       maximum contaminant levels for health-threatening microbes, chemicals
       and other substances that could find their way into drinking water
       Although Congress significantly altered the law in 1996 to give states
       greater flexibility, there's no doubt that environmental group pressure
       and public fears aroused by events such as Milwaukee's 1993 outbreak of
       Cryptosporidium contamination will force municipal agencies and
       privately owned water utilities to accept the burden of providing purer
       water. Since 1993, Milwaukee has upgraded its system for filtering water
       from Lake Michigan, and other major cities that rely on surface supplies
       face hefty bills for installing or improving filtration systems.
       Earlier this year, EPA filed a lawsuit to force New York City to build a
       $533 million plant to start filtering water from its Croton Watershed
       reservoir, the source of 10 percent of the city's consumption.
       Boston, Los Angeles, Detroit, Omaha and Seattle are among other cities
       that are likely to spend $100 million or more apiece on filtration
       plants to comply with EPA's rule requiring that surface water be
       treated. Over the next 20 years, EPA figures that the 800 largest
       systems (those serving more than 50,000 people) will spend nearly $60
       billion of the $138 billion required to keep water safe to drink.
       That will be painful, but at least big-city systems can cover the costs
       of treating water and monitoring for problems by spreading rate
       increases across large numbers of customers. The thornier problem is
       that more than 46,000 public water systems serve small towns, rural
       subdivisions, trailer parks or resort developments with less than 3,300
       people. As they've developed since 1986, "federal regulations
       differentiate very little between large and small systems," Vermont's
       Rutherford points out.
       "It's very difficult for smaller systems to stay in compliance just with
       the operating aspects, to say nothing about construction," Rutherford
       Smaller communities, therefore, have to jack up their rates
       significantly to pay for sophisticated water quality tests and install
       filtering devices to comply with drinking water standards. By EPA's
       calculations, the smallest systems would have to spend an average of
       $3,300 over the next 20 years for each household they serve. That's more
       than triple the per-household cost for bigger systems, and double what
       EPA calculates for each family in a medium-sized community.
       Some rural communities would just as soon throw in the towel. The
       Starksboro Water Co., a private utility owned by its customers, has been
       supplying about 60 homes in Starksboro, Vt., with drinking water from a
       Green Mountain spring since 1906. The firm has unsuccessfully petitioned
       the state public service board for permission to go out of business
       rather than comply with the Vermont Environmental Conservation
       Department's requirements.
       The agency figures the average Vermont household can afford to pay $375
       a year for water, but Starksboro residents see no good reason to raise
       rates that now average around $75 annually. "We've got good water now,"
       contends Fenwick Espey, the company's president. "The state wants and
       wants, but they don't have any money to want with. We don't either, so
       we can't afford to keep going."

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