Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) releases an Infrastructure Report Card grading the United States on 16 major infrastructure categories, as well as the state of the nation’s infrastructure as a whole. In 2017, the U.S. overall tied its grade from 2013 with a D+. Wastewater infrastructure improved its grade from a D in 2013 to a D+ in 2017.
Funding the Future
As of 2017, there are almost 15,000 wastewater utilities across the country. They have long protected the health of the nation and improved its water quality. However, these utilities cannot support the nation’s growing population and have been given only a short time to get everything in line. The EPA estimates that an extra 56 million people will be connecting to this infrastructure by 2032, which means a whopping 23% increase in just 15 years. So how much is the bill to get the nation’s wastewater utilities ready? The ASCE estimated $271 billion to repair and upgrade the nation’s current infrastructure and add the expected 532 additional systems needed to handle the increased demand. According to the ASCE, improving the 2017 wastewater infrastructure grade relies heavily on improvement in two major categories: condition/capacity and stormwater.
Infrastructure Condition and Capacity Issues
With such a large number of people using utilities, their condition and capacity is crucial to the nation’s wastewater infrastructure. There are over 800,000 miles of public sewers, plus over 500,000 private lateral sewers already in the U.S., and all of these systems can suffer from capacity problems or deterioration causing blockages or overflows. In fact, the EPA estimates there are between 23,000 and 75,000 overflows from sanitary sewer systems every year. While these numbers seem large, they do not even include a problem faced by a large portion of the nation’s wastewater utilities—stormwater.
Over 770 communities across the United States drain wastewater and stormwater into the same system, and during heavy rains or flash floods these utilities can overflow and carry untreated waste and pollutants back into the environment. This endangers the health of people and wildlife in the nearby areas. These events are called combined sewer overflows (CSOs), and they are the second largest source of water pollution in the United States. With the growing population and increase in large storms and floods, these problems will only get worse.
Addressing the nation’s stormwater infrastructure and capacity increases are one of the many issues described in this $271 billion estimate, but where does such a large sum of money comes from? While there is definitely some help from the federal level with grants, loans, and subsidies, about 95% of funding for wastewater utilities comes from the state and local levels. That means taxpayers and ratepayers are bearing the brunt of this bill. Unfortunately, funds collected at the local level are rarely enough to cover the cost of service.
Most of this report card makes the outlook for wastewater treatment in the United States pretty grim, but the ASCE ends it on a high note. The report includes a list of recommendations that can help raise the wastewater grade, including:
- Reinvigorating the State Revolving Fund (SRF) for loans by reauthorizing the minimum federal funding of $20 billion over five years
- Fully funding the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA)
- Preserving tax exempt municipal bond financing
- Eliminating the state cap on private activity bonds for water infrastructure projects to help bring an estimated $6-$7 billion annually in new private financing
- Establishing a Federal Water Infrastructure Trust Fund to finance the national shortfall in funding of infrastructure systems under the Clean Water Act
- Supporting green infrastructure, which provides co-benefits such as water and air quality improvement, aesthetic value to communities, and cost competitiveness
For water and wastewater organizations, securing additional funding can transform operations. But even though millions in grants are available, finding, researching and applying for these resources can be daunting. In our new, free white paper, Envirosight explains the basics and helps you understand the process of tapping into these funding opportunities. Check it out here: