infrastructure

Celebrate Those Hidden Pipes and Forgotten Facilities

By Gina Snyder

I’ve never met a group of more hard-working, humble, dedicated professionals than the people I meet from water and wastewater treatment facilities. “Infrastructure Week,” the third week in May, provides an opportunity to celebrate the work they do and the critical services they provide. We make use of our roads, faucets, bridges and bathrooms every day of our life, but how often do we think about infrastructure, this vast array of assets that constantly need our attention.Infrastructure2

Well, a group of dozens of businesses, utilities and other organizations who got together to create Infrastructure Week hope to change that. They hope all of us will start paying attention to these assets and giving them the credit, funding and care they are due. This year’s theme for the week is “Infrastructure Matters.”

And it does! Infrastructure matters, in big ways and small — to our country, our economy, our quality of life, our safety, and our communities. Roads, bridges, rails, ports, pipes, the power grid, all of it matters immensely. As the infrastructure week website points out, it matters “to the goods we ship and the companies that make and sell them; it matters to our daily commutes and our summer vacations; to drinking water from our faucets, to the lights in our homes, and ultimately to every aspect of our daily lives.”

Important as infrastructure is, much of it is hidden. All the underground pipes have been working for us for decades, under cover. These pipes bring water and gas to our homes, and take waste away.

Unfortunately, these important assets get low scores for the poor condition much of them are in.

When construction season begins it may seem we are tackling the problem. Several years ago, my street was dug up and my home was hooked up to a plastic pipe running up my driveway as my town replaced the water line. Now, this spring, the gas company is replacing the gas line in the street.

But all the disruption you see goes only a small way toward closing what’s reported to be a $1 trillion infrastructure investment gap in the U.S.

Perhaps because rain falls freely from the sky, we think water is “free”. But, treating and delivering water is far from free. The same is true for the pipes that carry away wastewater.

Since our water infrastructure is out of sight and out of mind, it is easy to underestimate costs. As one of the largest assets of our cities and towns, water infrastructure deserves more attention than it typically gets.

Our local communities pay most of the cost of water infrastructure, mainly through revenues generated by water rates. These fees will continue to be the primary source of revenue for most community water systems. It is important that we pay the rates that recover the costs to make this service sustainable.

You can help bring this important topic the attention it deserves. For Infrastructure Week, talk about these challenges – and increase awareness of just how valuable our water infrastructure is.

Infrastructrure1Ask your public officials to consider alternative solutions – particularly with the heavy rain storms we can expect with climate change, ask them to use green infrastructure approaches when it’s time to fix the storm drains.

Encourage public officials also to consider smart growth when development comes to town. This means building in places and ways that minimize demands on our water and wastewater systems. Sprawl and poorly planned growth can result in more pipes and plants that are harder and more expensive to maintain. Growing “smartly” can put your community’s infrastructure on a more sustainable footing.

You can also help by protecting your water source, which will also protect public health and reduce treatment needs. The quality of the water that provides your drinking water can be threatened by everyday activities and land uses. Make sure your cars do not leak oil and avoid using chemicals on your lawn.

During Infrastructure Week, remember to appreciate the clean water we all enjoy.

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More information from EPA about Sustainable Water Infrastructure https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-water-infrastructure

About the author:  Gina Snyder works in the Office of Environmental Stewardship, Compliance Assistance at EPA New England and serves on her town’s climate committee.

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.

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Building Big! Building Green?

LaGuardia Airport in Queens, NY.

LaGuardia Airport in Queens, NY.

By Elias Rodriguez

Today helps determine our tomorrow. Over the next several years, visitors and residents of the Big Apple, as New York City is known, will witness a major reconstruction or reinvention of two major transportation hubs within the area. Both of these herculean public works projects will have significant impacts on New York’s quality of life, the communities surrounding them and the environment.

Most likely, the first mega-project will be LaGuardia airport in Queens. The decaying airport is named for our beloved Fiorello Henry La Guardia who served three terms from 1933 to 1945 as mayor. Budgeted at $3.6 billion, the long overdue overhaul of the airport is highly anticipated. Vice President Biden attending the launch for the plan. Comprising over 680 acres, the airport borders two bays: Flushing and Bowery and served 26.7 million passengers in 2013 alone. LaGuardia airport opened in 1939 and is infamous for traffic jams, and a retro-vibe that is decidedly not cool.

The second transportation hub in desperate need of an update is the bus terminal at 42 Street and Eighth Ave. and Ninth Ave., which is also owned by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. It is the largest bus terminal in the country and handles about 220,000 passenger trips on one typical work day. It is not named after anyone, which is odd for Gotham.

Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City.

Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City.

Founded in 1921, the Port Authority built and owns the two hubs, the World Trade Center site and many bridges and tunnels in the area. The Port Authority is a bi-state agency and joint venture run by the two respective states. It receives no tax revenue from either New York or New Jersey but gets its revenue from other sources such as tolls and the fees I pay for my EZ-Pass (electronic toll collection system) device. In my family’s case, the Port Authority gets about $150 to $300 a month. Correct. That’s not chump change.

Projects of this size, scale and enormous cost raise correspondingly momentous questions about their environmental impacts. Will green infrastructure be a consideration? How can we best handle air emissions from mobile sources? The region’s transportation infrastructure was already sorely tested during the extreme weather from Hurricane Sandy. What mitigation steps are available to address the impacts from floods and wet weather impacts? These are weighty questions and public input will be a key part of the design and development process. Are these project really necessary? Yes, they are desperately needed investments. How they are rebuilt will be of monumental significance to every stakeholder.

As you enjoy Earth Day and related events, take some time to think about your impact, big or small, on our planet. Oh, and have a safe trip.

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

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.

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Improving Drinking Water Infrastructure is a Priority

By Stan Meiburg

This week in Chicago, thousands of water professionals met at the Water Environmental Federation Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC) to discuss pressing issues facing America’s water sector. Maintaining America’s drinking water infrastructure has been one of the most important topics at this year’s meeting.

Cities and towns across America are facing significant drinking water infrastructure challenges.  Many of the drinking water mains in Chicago are over a century old.  The situation in my own city of Washington, DC is no different – half the drinking water mains in Washington were put in the ground before 1936.

This issue is personal for all of us.  Few things are more important than knowing that the water that comes out of the tap is safe for our children to drink.

The good news is that our nation’s 51,000 community water systems continue to do a tremendous job of meeting that challenge.  Last year, 93 percent of all community drinking water systems met all the nation’s health-based drinking water standards, all the time.

But aging drinking water infrastructure is an issue we’ll have to address to continue to provide the highest quality drinking water to the American people. The Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund (DWSRF) is a federal/state partnership designed to create, in each state, a perpetual source of financing for drinking water infrastructure.

Last year, the DWSRF financed nearly 900 projects, served over 40 million people, and provided nearly $2 billion in financing. In fact, one out every 8 Americans lives in a community that was served by the DWSRF last year alone.

Most of our nation’s community water systems are small—92 percent of them serve fewer than 10,000 residents. And most small systems consistently provide safe, reliable drinking water to their customers, but many face significant challenges in financing needed maintenance and upgrades. EPA is working with states and other federal agencies to provide targeted support to small systems through the DWSRF and other programs.  For example, over the past two years, EPA awarded approximately $32 million to provide training and technical assistance to small public water systems.

In addition, the water treatment infrastructure we build today has to withstand not only today’s realities, but tomorrow’s uncertainties. Climate change is driving more extreme storms, floods, droughts, fires, and extreme temperatures today—and water infrastructure needs to be resilient. EPA is helping water systems become resilient to climate change with practical and easy-to-use tools from our Climate Ready Water Utilities initiative.

And earlier this year, EPA formed a new Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center to identify new and creative opportunities to support the water sector, including leveraging of private funds. The Finance Center will draw on local expertise all across the U.S. to help communities move forward with important projects in the water sector.

The states are also responding to the urgent need to support drinking water infrastructure. EPA has worked with the states to greatly increase the rate of spending under the DWSRF, achieving a 40 percent, or $500 million reduction in the amount of DWSRF unliquidated obligations in the last two years alone.

As I listened to the presentations this week, I was reminded that the American people enjoy the cleanest drinking water in the world. EPA looks forward to continuing to work with the water sector to make sure this is always the case.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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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.

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Water Infrastructure: Meeting the Challenges Ahead

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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.

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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.

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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.

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