EPA survey shows $271 billion needed for nation’s wastewater infrastructure

Much higher level of wastewater treatment today than when Clean Water Act passed in 1972 according to EPA

Posted January 20, 2016

On January 13, EPA released a survey showing that $271 billion is needed to maintain and improve the nation’s wastewater infrastructure, including the pipes that carry wastewater to treatment plants, the technology that treats the water, and methods for managing stormwater runoff.

The survey is a collaboration between EPA, states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and other U.S. territories. To be included in the survey, projects must include a description and location of a water quality-related public health problem, a site-specific solution, and detailed information on project cost.

EPA launched the Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center in January 2015 to work with states and communities to identify innovative financing strategies for drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure. The center recently selected regional Environmental Finance Centers to help communities across the country develop sustainable “how-to-pay” solutions to meet environmental goals. This financial expertise and technical assistance helps communities make informed funding decisions for resilient infrastructure projects that best meet local needs.

According to EPA, the average American receives a much higher level of wastewater treatment today compared to when the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972. Between 1972 and 2012, the U.S. population receiving secondary treatment increased from about 75 million to 90 million, and the population receiving advanced treatment increased from 7.8 million to 127 million. Over the same period, the population receiving less-than-secondary treatment decreased from almost 60 million to 4.1 million. This has resulted in dramatic improvements in the waterways receiving discharges from these treatment plants.

The $271 billion is primarily for projects needed within five years. The survey reported the following infrastructure needs:

  • Secondary wastewater treatment: $52.4 billion to meet secondary treatment standards. Secondary treatment uses biological processes to meet the minimum level of treatment required by law.
  • Advanced wastewater treatment: $49.6 billion to provide upgrades so treatment plants can attain a level of treatment more protective than secondary treatment. Advanced treatment may also treat nonconventional or toxic pollutants such as nitrogen, phosphorus, ammonia or metals.
  • Conveyance system repair: $51.2 billion to rehabilitate and repair conveyance systems.
  • New conveyance systems: $44.5 billion to install new sewer collection systems, interceptor sewers and pumping stations.
  • Combined sewer overflow correction: $48 billion to prevent periodic discharges of mixed stormwater and untreated wastewater during wet-weather events.
  • Stormwater management programs: $19.2 billion to plan and implement structural and nonstructural measures to control polluted runoff from storm events.
  • Recycled water distribution: $6.1 billion for conveyance and further treatment of wastewater for reuse.

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