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U.S. Water Infrastructure Given ‘D’ Grade by ASCE Group

The U.S. drinking water and sewage infrastructure earned a barely passing grade of D from the American Society of Civil Engineers today, which said at least $1 trillion is needed to fix the problem.

The ASCE in its quadrennial Report Card for America’s Infrastructure said the drinking water infrastructure improved slightly, to a D from an almost failing D- in 2009, even as U.S. pipes and treatment plants near the end of their expected lifespan. With almost 240,000 water main breaks a year, it would take more than $1 trillion to repair and replace systems, the report said, citing the American Water Works Association.

Almost 14,000 of the country’s 84,000 dams that help provide water and power were rated “high hazard,” with the average age of an American reservoir 52 years. The report said the U.S. needs to spend about $298 billion over the next 20 years to repair and expand wastewater and stormwater systems, whose grade improved marginally from a D- to a D.

“The grades are in and the nation’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure is still in a poor state,” said Chief Executive Officer Jeff Sterba of American Water Works Co., the largest publicly traded U.S. water company. “If it were a student, such ongoing marginal performance would not be acceptable.”

Sewage Runoff

The ASCE report said investments in new and improved treatment plants will cost as much as 20 percent of the $298 billion, with expanding pipes and wastewater networks making up the balance. Better piping will reduce sewer overflows, when stormwater overwhelms plants and holding tanks, and raw effluents run off into waterways.

With state and local governments now responsible for about 98 percent of the capital investments in water infrastructure, the engineers’ group proposed to finance needed work by boosting government-backed revolving loans with $7.5 billion in federal funds and using more tax-free private activity bonds to help pay for private water investment projects.

It also recommended establishing a federal water infrastructure trust fund and a Water Infrastructure Finance Innovations Authority to borrow from the federal government at U.S. Treasury rates to finance water projects.

“Not meeting the investment needs of the next 20 years risks reversing the environmental, public health and economic gains of the last three decades,” the ASCE said.

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