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EPA: US water infrastructure needs $384 billion upgrade

June 07, 2013
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The federal government will have to spend at least $384 billion on improvements of the country's drinking water infrastructure to make sure that the U.S. population is provided with safe water over the next 20 years, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) fifth Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment. The survey projects the need for upgrades to pipes, treatment plants and water distribution systems in the United States in the foreseeable future.

The EPA carries out the survey every four years and submits it to Congress. This time it examined some 73,400 water systems across the United States, many of which were between 50 and 100 years old, the agency explained in a statement.

The report stated that the biggest share of the necessary funds for improvements of the nation's water infrastructure, $247.5 billion (64.4 percent of the total), should be set aside for replacing and refurbishing old and deteriorating water pipes. A further $72.5 billion (18.9 percent) will be needed to construct, expand or rehabilitate water treatment infrastructure, while another $39.5 billion (10.3 percent) should go toward construction, rehabilitation and covering of completed water storage reservoirs and $20.5 billion (5.3 percent) should be allocated to source projects, the EPA said.

These expansions and repairs to existing infrastructure are predicted to meet the needs of the Unites States for safe water until December 2030. It should be noted that the survey only focused on needs that are eligible to receive Drinking Water State Revolving Fund help, which means that a number of projects are excluded from the assessment, such as dams, raw water reservoirs, fire protection and future growth.

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Compared to previous assessments, the total estimate is similar to those in previous surveys. The EPA calculated a need for $379.7 billion in 2007 and $375.9 billion in 2003. The agency believes that those assessments were more accurate in reflecting the actual needs for infrastructure improvements than those from 1995 and 1999.

The EPA explained that its calculations were made thanks to online questionnaires that were sent to all 606 large U.S. water systems, which serve more than 100,000 people each, and to 2,234 medium systems that deliver water to communities of between 3,001 and 100,000. About 99 percent of big systems and 97 percent of the medium systems responded to the questionnaires.

The needs of the small water systems that serve fewer than 3,000 people were based on the findings from the previous survey in 2007, adjusted to 2011 dollars, the agency said. Needs of medium-sized water systems account for the biggest share of funding -- 43 percent of the total sum, or $161.8 billion. Large and small systems would need $145.1 billion and $64.5 billion respectively.

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