EPA Assesses Wastewater Infrastructure


A recent survey by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests that $271 billion is needed to maintain and improve the nation’s wastewater infrastructure over the next five years, the agency announced in a statement Wednesday (Jan. 13).

The EPA worked with states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories to collect information regarding the pipes that carry wastewater to treatment plants, the technology that treats the water and methods for managing stormwater runoff.

“The only way to have clean and reliable water is to have infrastructure that is up to the task,” said Joel Beauvais, EPA’s acting deputy assistant administrator for water.

“Our nation has made tremendous progress in modernizing our treatment plants and pipes in recent decades, but this survey tells us that a great deal of work remains,” he added.

Clean Watersheds Needs Survey

As required by Congress, the EPA conducts a Clean Watersheds Needs Survey (CWNS) every four years. The CWNS provides a comprehensive assessment of the capital costs (or needs) to meet the water quality goals of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and address water quality and water quality-related public health concerns.

It collects information on:

  • Publicly owned wastewater collection and treatment facilities;
  • Stormwater and combined sewer overflows control facilities;
  • Nonpoint source pollution control projects; and
  • Decentralized wastewater management.

Study participants submit project proposals that include a description and location of a water quality-related public health problem, a site-specific solution and detailed information on project cost.

The national and state needs are then compiled in a report to Congress and used by that body and state legislatures in their budgeting efforts.

Survey Findings

From the data collected, the EPA has determined that, to address infrastructure projects needed within five years, $271 billion in funding would be required.

© iStock.com / Cylonphoto

Every four years, the EPA provides a comprehensive assessment of the capital costs (or needs) to meet the water quality goals of the Clean Water Act and address water quality and water quality-related public health concerns.

The agency notes that $51.2 billion would be needed to rehabilitate and repair existing conveyance systems, while another $44.5 billion would be targeted to the installation of new sewer collection and conveyance systems, interceptor sewers and pumping stations.

Another $6.1 billion would be slated for the billion for conveyance, distribution and further treatment of wastewater for reuse.

The planning and implementation of structural and nonstructural measures to control polluted runoff from storm events would call for $19.2 billion.

In order to prevent periodic discharges of mixed stormwater and untreated wastewater during wet-weather events, $48 billion would be needed for combined sewer overflow correction.

For wastewater treatment, $52.4 billion would go toward meeting secondary treatment standards (using biological processes to meet the minimum level of treatment required by law), and $49.6 billion would help provide upgrades so treatment plants can provide a more advanced level of treatment and protection (treating for nonconventional or toxic pollutants such as nitrogen, phosphorus, ammonia or metals).

Wastewater infrastructure improvements such as these, the EPA notes, not only promote a healthy ecosystem, but also support healthy economies as construction projects create good-paying jobs and, where new facilities are built, workers are needed to operate and maintain them.

Financing Strategies

To help states and communities identify innovative financing strategies for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure projects, the EPA launched the Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center in January 2015.

© iStock.com / tsz01

Wastewater infrastructure improvements also support healthy economies as construction projects create jobs and new facilities require workers to operate and maintain them, EPA says.

The center recently selected regional Environmental Finance Centers to help communities across the country develop sustainable funding solutions to meet environmental goals.

This financial expertise and technical assistance serves to help communities make informed funding decisions for resilient infrastructure projects that best meet local needs.

The EPA also offers financial assistance to address the types of infrastructure needs covered in the CWNS.

The Clean Water State Revolving Fund has provided more than $111 billion in low-interest loans since its inception in 1987, with $5.8 billion in fiscal year 2015 alone.

Grant funding is also available through the Alaska Native Villages and Rural Communities program, the Clean Water Indian Set-Aside and the U.S.-Mexico Border Water Infrastructure program.

According to the agency, the average American receives a much higher level of wastewater treatment today compared to 1972, when the CWA was passed.

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.


Tagged categories: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Funding; Infrastructure; North America; Pipeline; Pipes; Program/Project Management; Waste Processing Plant; Wastewater Plants; Water Tanks

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