The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is calling on the water and wastewater industries to pursue and adopt more sustainable approaches to building, maintaining and operating sewer lines, water treatment plants, storage facilities, and other infrastructure.
EPA’s new “Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Sustainability Policy,” announced Monday (Oct. 4), aims to increase the sustainability of water and wastewater infrastructure in the United States, the agency says.
“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), working with states and local governments, will develop guidance, provide technical assistance, and target federal SRF [State Revolving Fund] capitalization assistance to support increasing the sustainability of water infrastructure in the U.S. and the communities it serves,” the policy says.
Much of the drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in the United States was built in the decades after World War II, mirroring the increase in population, EPA notes.
“We cannot ignore the arriving wave of infrastructure rehabilitation and replacement we will face over the next several decades,” the agency said. “To do so would put the achievements of the last 30-40 years and our nation’s waters and public health at risk.”
Widespread adoption of better management practices offers “great promise to reduce costs and direct system investments using a risk-based approach,” said EPA.
The policy calls for, among other things:
• Federal investments, policies and actions to support water infrastructure in “more efficient and sustainable locations”;
• “Robust and comprehensive” planning processes to pursue cost-effective, resource-efficient water infrastructure investments;
• Effective utility management practices, including consideration of alternatives such as natural or “green” systems and potential climate change impacts;
• An on-going collaborative process between water systems and “all stakeholders” to determine where and how to make water infrastructure investments in their communities;
• Requiring government and communities to accept technical, managerial, and financial expertise on sustainability as a condition of financial assistance; and
• Providing federal and state technical assistance to small and disadvantaged communities, possibly including partnerships with “higher-capability entities.”
Sustainable Management ‘Essential’
“Sustainably managing our water infrastructure is one of the biggest challenges facing the water sector and is essential to protecting human health and the environment and realizing the goals of clean and safe water,” EPA said.
Communities across the country are facing challenges in making costly upgrades and repairs to their aging water infrastructure, which include sewer systems and treatment facilities. Meanwhile, EPA notes, today’s water infrastructure funds are scarce and their investment carries long-term repercussions for sustainability.
“Making this infrastructure last longer while increasing its cost-effectiveness is essential to protecting human health and the environment, and maintaining safe drinking water and clean water bodies,” EPA said.
Aligning Policies, Investments
EPA says the policy will help “ensure that federal investments, policies, and actions support water infrastructure in efficient and sustainable locations to best aid existing communities, enhance economic competitiveness, and promote affordable neighborhoods.”
The new policy was released in response to a request in President Obama’s FY 2010 budget.
The policy emphasizes the need to build on existing efforts to promote sustainable water infrastructure. It also focuses on working with states and water systems to employ comprehensive planning processes that result in projects that are cost effective over their life cycle, resource efficient, and consistent with community sustainability goals.
The policy encourages effective utility management practices to build and maintain the level of technical, financial, and managerial capacity necessary to ensure long-term sustainability.
The policy Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Policy may be downloaded from EPA.
Promoting sustainability and focusing on life-cycle costs and maintenance were among the key recommendations made by the American Society of Civil Engineers in its latest “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.”
The 2009 Report Card gave a grade of D- to wastewater and drinking water infrastructure and an overall grade of D to U.S. infrastructure. Bringing infrastructure up to standards would cost $2.2 trillion over five years, ASCE said.
A critical part of the solution, in addition to additional government investment, is developing sustainable practices and materials that emphasize life-cycle costs and factor in ongoing maintenance.
“Life-cycle cost analysis, ongoing maintenance, and planned renewal will result in more sustainable and resilient infrastructure systems and ensure they can meet the needs of future users, ” ASCE said.