Water, Water, Everywhere: More Than a Drop to Treat

Last week, EPA released its Clean Watersheds Needs Survey 2008 Report to Congress. I have three immediate reactions to the Report. The first is that there are a lot of needs out there. The Report’s bottom line is that there is currently an expected shortfall of $298 billion over the next 20 years for clean water infrastructure. As Congress turns from short-term stimulus spending to long-term concerns about the deficit, it’s difficult to see Congress being eager to hear National Association of Clean Water Agencies Executive Director Ken Kirk say that

the federal government must become a long-term partner in developing a sustainable funding mechanism to address the growing infrastructure funding gap.

My second reaction is that I’m skeptical of these numbers. I don’t doubt the big picture funding gap, but it’s clear in a quick review that different states report these numbers differently. For example, as readers of this blog know, both EPA and Massachusetts DEP are making big pushes to increase stormwater regulation in Massachusetts. However, the Report states that, while Massachusetts has almost an overall $8 billion shortfall, its stormwater needs are only $41 million. The Report further states that Massachusetts needs literally zero money for stormwater conveyance infrastructure and only $22 million for treatment systems. Pennsylvania, on the other hand, apparently needs $6 billion for stormwater infrastructure. 

As much as I love my adopted state, I’m doubtful that Massachusetts is that far ahead of Pennsylvania. I sure hope that, before spending decisions are made, someone takes a closer look at these numbers.

My third reaction is one of fear, particularly on the stormwater front. Nationally, the overall shortfall associated with stormwater is nearly $43 billion. We’ve already seen in Massachusetts efforts to push stormwater compliance costs onto private landowners. With that sort of shortfall, the pressure to do so can only increase, particularly as local governments are starved for revenue. 

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