infrastructure

Protecting Your Drinking Water for 40 Years

By Ken Kopocis

Crossposted from EPA Connect

As I traveled across the country this year, there’s one thing I could count on everywhere I went: tap water that’s safe to drink. Drinking water is essential for healthy families, thriving communities, and strong local economies. And this month we’re proud to celebrate an important milestone as December 16, 2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

We’ve made incredible progress in improving drinking water safety over the past 40 years. Before Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, EPA lacked the authority and the funding to ensure safe drinking water, and over 40% of our nation’s drinking water systems failed to meet even the basic health standards in place at the time.

Today, we almost take safe drinking water for granted. The Safe Drinking Water Act has been such a success that we sometimes lose sight of how far we’ve come. Americans drink over 1 billion glasses of tap water every day. We enjoy the cleanest drinking water in the world, with more than 90 percent of Americans receiving water that meets all standards, all the time.

We owe that accomplishment to this incredible law, and to the dedicated work of water professionals at the federal, state, and local level. Clean, reliable water is the foundation of what makes America great. It’s what lets our children grow up healthy, keeps our schools and hospitals running, and fuels our economy.

But we face new and legacy challenges to providing safe drinking water. Just this past year, the water sector struggled with the effects of a changing climate. Climate impacts hit the water sector first, with warmer temperatures, stronger storms, more extreme droughts, and changes to water chemistry.

We’ve also seen stark reminders this year that our drinking water supplies are still vulnerable. In January, a chemical spill upstream of the Charleston, WV, drinking water intake contaminated the drinking water supply for five days. Governor Tomblin estimated the spill cost the state over $70 million. And in August, algae in Lake Erie produced a toxin that made it into Toledo’s water supply. Local business came to a standstill and nearly half a million people were left without safe drinking water for two days.

These events make clear that we need to do more to protect our nation’s drinking water at the source. EPA will continue to coordinate efforts with partners like the Source Water Collaborative, made up of 25 national organizations dedicated to protecting our nation’s drinking water. The Collaborative has launched a Call to Action—asking utilities, states, federal agencies, and local governments to step up to protect source water. I encourage all of us to act.

Utilities can partner with landowners and businesses, and make sure they have plans in place with emergency responders. Local governments can help with land use planning to protect water where it counts most. States can update source water assessments.

And federal agencies can work better together. At EPA, we’re working with USDA Rural Development to better serve the 97% of our nation’s water systems with fewer than 10,000 customers. We’re offering specially tailored technical assistance and financing options for rural water systems, helping make sure they have the resources and expertise they need.

And EPA has taken an important step to protect headwaters and small streams from pollution with our proposed Clean Water Rule, which will reduce the need for expensive treatment.

Protecting drinking water has never been easy, and it’s not getting any easier. But when we focus on infrastructure investments, building partnerships, and protecting source water — we can continue to make a difference.

We’ll have to work together. And when we do, the Safe Drinking Water Act will protect future generations for decades to come.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Water Infrastructure: Meeting the Challenges Ahead

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Katie Henderson

Last week, EPA released the fifth drinking water infrastructure needs survey and assessment. This survey indicates that $384 billion is needed to invest in things like pipes, treatment plants and storage tanks to meet the needs of 73,400 water systems across the country over the next 20 years. This huge need represents challenges to delivering safe drinking water to homes and businesses, especially as we face aging infrastructure worldwide.

Aging infrastructure is something many of us don’t think about that often because most of our drinking water infrastructure is hidden from sight. You might only notice it when it fails, like the water main near my house a few weeks ago. I walked down the street and saw water shooting dozens of feet straight up in the air. It was an impressive sight, all of that water suddenly visible above ground instead of flowing out of sight below. Our neighbors’ water was shut off for a few hours while the city made repairs.

No piece of infrastructure can last forever. Pipes corrode, dams leak, equipment breaks and wells can dry up. Failing infrastructure can be a nuisance – a minor traffic delay on your way to work. Sometimes failing infrastructure can present a severe health or safety risk like a failing dam or a compromised drinking water filtration system.

In some areas, financial need for drinking water investment works out to be greater than $1,000 per person. Today, it’s hard to secure funding to fix infrastructure problems, especially for smaller systems that don’t have an economy of scale to raise enough money through user fees. In addition, many cities are growing and their infrastructure wasn’t built to accommodate large populations. The uncertainty from the effects of climate change adds even more complexity to drinking water systems infrastructure and planning.

EPA and states work together to help systems address aging infrastructure challenges through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and capacity development programs. EPA uses the findings from the drinking water infrastructure needs survey when allocating funds to the states. Through these programs, systems and communities can receive financial and technical assistance. From 1997 to 2012, states loaned $23.7 billion to water systems for almost 10,000 projects across the country.

Our drinking water systems need investment to become more sustainable and protect public health, and the EPA is working to provide funding solutions for the water systems that need assistance.

About the author: Katie Henderson. Katie Henderson is an ORISE Participant in the Drinking Water Protection Division of the Office of Water. She graduated with her Master’s degree from Utah State University and wrote her thesis on water infrastructure challenges in the West. She likes to travel, bake cookies, and promote environmental justice.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

My Journey to Mid-town Earth for Water (Part 2 of 2)

By Elias Rodriguez

New York City’s  Water Tunnel No. 3 has yet to supply one drop of drinking water to the population, nevertheless it is already a world renowned marvel of engineering and water infrastructure savvy. The project is MASSIVE. The water tunnel has already been featured documentaries, magazine spreads and even had a starring role in a Bruce Willis feature film. Guess which one?

As I descended into the darkness to take a tour of the cacophonous capital construction project, I marveled at the foresight it took on the part of elected officials to say YES to a gargantuan investment with little short-term gain, but with a payoff that will yield safe, clean drinking water for generations of thirsty New York residents and visitors.  Through six mayors and $6 billion the public works project inexorably presses on.

Clickety, Clank, Clickety, Clank, went the tiny hoist that took us down to the work area hundreds of feet below. In the darkness, I made a quick mental inventory of my life insurance policy. Sweating under a hard hat, my first impression was how damp and muddy things were. Maybe as a Lord of the Rings fan I was expecting Persian rugs and tea? We met tunnel workers or sand hogs as they are proudly known, avoided getting run over by work trains and learned about metamorphic rock. One caveat is that down under one cannot escape the endless supply of tunnel humor. When is a boring adventure not boring? Did you hear the one about schist rock?  My spelunking sojourn was exciting, educational and eerie. The City has its own slideshow here. More

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

My Journey to Mid-town Earth for Water (Part I)

By Elias Rodriguez

I am not a Hobbit, but I have travelled deep into the Earth in search of adventure, mystery and a look at how New York City is working to keep the population’s drinking water secure, safe and clean.

The two reservoir systems that supply the City drinking water are the Catskill/Delaware watershed west of the Hudson River and the Croton watershed east of the Hudson. Getting all that water, about 1.4 billion gallons a day, give or take a swiggle, to nine million thirsty people is a fluid feat.  In the Big Apple, a big part of the drinking water story is 800 feet underground, far beneath the pitter patter of pedestrians. The vital public works project, sight unseen, is City Water Tunnel No. 3.

At the invitation of New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, I had the opportunity to tour water tunnel No. 3, the largest capital construction project in New York City’s history. Water tunnel No. 3 will supplement the water supply currently provided by water tunnels No. 1 and No. 2.  Way back in 1954, the City envisioned the need to construct a third water tunnel for City residents. Thanks to years of intelligent infrastructure investments, actual construction of the water tunnel began in 1970. When completed in 2020, the 60 mile long tunnel will supply the City with drinking water from the Upstate watershed. For my fellow Public Administration aficionados, please note that City officials are spending money, OMG!, for something that will not produce revenue for 50 years. More

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.