Circle of Blue: Federal Water Mandates Blowing a Hole in Municipal Budgets, Local Leaders Say

August 31, 2012 | EPA

Local government officials and utility leaders ask U.S. Congress to invest in water projects and to provide regulatory flexibility. The framework is part of a broader debate about how to balance ecosystems, public health and financial constraints, in this, the 40th year of the Clean Water Act.


An Aug. 23 article on the Circle of Blue website begins:

If not for a few well-placed bolts, segments of the Washington, D.C., sewer system would have blown apart at the seams recently during fierce rainstorms and subsequent flooding in the nation’s capital.

“The hydraulic pressure of all the flow is so great it is popping off the manholes and shooting them in the air,” said George Hawkins, general manager of the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority.

For obvious safety reasons, city workers locked down the manhole covers — but doing so caused sewer lines to back up into homes and businesses, reversing the flow of the fetid blend into basements and stockrooms.

The primary culprit is inadequate capacity in the pipes. The trunk sewer and the feeder lines that serve the district’s Bloomingdale neighborhood were built at the turn of the 20th century.

“They simply are not big enough to contain the flow that goes into the system, which is handling both stormwater and wastewater,” Hawkins told a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on July 25.

Replacing the line would cost $US 600 million, Hawkins said. And though water-quality agreements with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) do not require that that project be taken up, the city is carrying out $US 3.6 billion in water-infrastructure projects that do have a federal mandate.

Because of these mandates, many communities and ratepayers are “economically tapped out,” said Representative Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), the chairman of the subcommittee on water resources and environment.

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