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An Urgent Need To Fund Water Infrastructure
U.S. Drinking Water Systems Have A $625 Billion Backlog, According To A New Report
Failures in our infrastructure are a huge part of our water problems today.
Aging water systems burdened with toxic buildup are exactly why the water crisis has become so dire. We must properly fund our municipalities and water treatment plants so that we can reduce further harm. It’s a complicated problem, and one that’s growing.
Earlier this month, the EPA released its 7th Drinking Water Information Needs Survey and Assessment (DWINSA), which estimates a $625 billion need to invest in drinking water systems nationwide. That’s a huge number, and a 32 percent increase from the 6th DWINSA in 2018, which estimated $472.6 billion.
The survey is the largest and broadest scope effort since its inception in 1995 and, for the first time includes data on lead service lines (LSLs).
What’s The DWINSA?
The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) requires the EPA to examine the needs for infrastructure improvements and maintenance at public water systems in the United States. To accomplish this task, the agency is required to conduct a survey and assessment every four years.
The EPA, states, and water systems collected data for the 7th DWINSA during calendar year 2021. The survey included 3,629 public water systems* from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. The survey included Tribal systems for the first time since 2011.
*Remember: A public water system provides water to at least 15 service connections or serves an average of at least 25 people for at least 60 days a year. A public water system can be publicly or privately owned.
This survey represents drinking water infrastructure projects that are necessary for the next 20 years for public water systems to be able to provide safe drinking water to the public.
Those projects include installing new drinking water infrastructure along with the rehabilitation, expansion, or replacement of existing infrastructure. It’s things like fixing leaky or old pipes, improving source of water supply, or replacing or constructing finished water storage tanks.
Based on info from the new survey, the total projected LSLs in the United States are 9.2 million. There are also an estimated 2.8 million standalone galvanized service lines. Currently, some states require that galvanized pipe be identified, and some states require that it be removed.
Lead particles can attach to the surface of galvanized pipes. Over time, the particles can enter your drinking water, causing elevated lead levels.
The 7th DWINSA provides the best available national and state-level projections of service line materials and counts. You can check out the number of estimated LSLs in your state in this fact sheet (scroll to page 5).
How The Funding Works
The DWINSA also guides the EPA’s distribution of annual funding to states through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF).
The DWSRF is a financial assistance program to help water systems and states to achieve the health protection objectives of the SDWA. (See 42 U.S.C. §300j-12.) The program works as a partnership between the EPA and the states.
Congress appropriates funding for the DWSRF, then the EPA awards capitalization grants to each state for their DWSRF based upon the results of the most recent DWINSA.
Why It All Matters
Throughout the U.S. all communities are vulnerable to, and many are experiencing, all kinds of water crises. It’s why so many people write to me! Their water stinks. The color has changed. They are dealing with strange health symptoms.
Ongoing infrastructure issues, lack of resources, misappropriated funds, and shortsighted decisions go right along with toxic contamination to impact our water supply each day.
Water main breaks are normal. In the U.S., they happen every 2.5 minutes or so. These breaks are caused by many factors, including changes in temperature, corrosion, and deterioration of old pipes. Repairing these breaks usually requires the water to be shut off, and during that time contaminants can enter the water supply.
We must properly fund our water systems to help reduce further harm.
Most drinking water problems typically take up to two years to get resolved, while many water treatment plants simply can’t afford the equipment to filter out contaminants. Water system upgrades are desperately needed throughout the country, including replacing millions of lead service lines.
As Americans, we deserve a water supply that we can trust. We need to continue to demand vital updates to our infrastructure that will sustain us for years to come.
Representative Emilia Sykes from Ohio’s 13th congressional district, along with Representative Grace Napolitano from California’s 31st congressional district recently submitted a letter to the House Appropriations Committee signed by 31 other members of Congress calling for increased funding for water infrastructure.
The letter noted the importance that access to clean water has for both public health and economic benefits. We need support like this from our lawmakers to increase and approve budgets for water infrastructure, strengthen safeguards, and enforce regulations, regardless of your (or their) political affiliations.
Numbers don’t lie.
I often feel like Bill Paxton from that dramatic scene in Twister when they say the tornado is coming and he says, “It’s already here.”
When you see issues in one community here or there, it looks bad. But when you line these communities up side by side and see the devastation, it’s a storm the likes of which we’ve never seen before.
Failing infrastructure is a recipe for disaster but one we can fix. We know the problems, so it’s time to get started on the solutions.
We’ve got the data, and now we need to get to work.
What do you think about the $625 billion backlog? Sound off in the comments below!