New York Needs $50 Billion to Keep Waters Clean

Thursday, Jan 7, 2010  |  Updated 5:18 PM CDT
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New York Needs $50 Billion to Keep Waters Clean

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ALBANY, New York, September 2, 2008 (ENS) - New York Governor David Paterson is calling on the federal government to help New York's municipalities maintain lakes, rivers and streams.

Federal support for water infrastructure has plummeted roughly 70 percent over the last two decades, delaying critical maintenance and contributing to Clean Water Act violations.

Due to decreasing federal aid, New York communities will have to spend in excess of $50 billion over the next 20 years to make required upgrades to meet federal requirements.

"Under any economic conditions, the fiscal burden of rebuilding our water infrastructure would be daunting. Rather than wait until they are handed the bill for these required repairs, we need to support New York's municipalities in getting federal funding for needed repairs and upgrades," said Governor Paterson.

"This has been ignored for too long; water quality, public health and municipal finances are all at risk," he said. "Systems are failing and often municipalities do not have the resources to do repairs or upgrades."

In August, the governor formed an environmental and government collaborative to help tackle the water infrastructure crisis facing New York state.

The Clean Water Collaborative will focus on funding solutions for the state's mounting wastewater and drinking water infrastructure needs.

The Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that repairs for municipal wastewater treatment systems statewide will be $36.2 billion over the next 20 years, while repairs for drinking water infrastructure could exceed $20 billion over the same period.

The Clean Water Collaborative panel will be co-chaired by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. - known for his work on environmental issues, particularly those dealing with clean water - and Ross Pepe, the executive director of the Construction Industry Council and Building Contractors Association. The panel includes representatives from environmental groups, business, and labor, as well as state and local government.

Aging wastewater infrastructure is tied directly to the quality of New York State's waters. A study by the Department of Environmental Conservation documented the correlation between wastewater infrastructure and water quality, finding that water quality declines when infrastructure is kept in place beyond its design life or is inadequately maintained.

Many of New York's sewage and wastewater facilities are past their design lives; 30 percent of the sewer pipes across the state were installed just after World War II and a quarter of wastewater treatment plants are more than 30 years old.

More than 200 state municipalities are facing federal Clean Water Act violations because of sewage overflows and other problems often related to aging infrastructure.

Senator Carl Marcellino, chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, said, "Last year, I held a hearing to investigate the issue of sewage wastewater management and planning in our state. I came away from that day knowing, more than ever, that New York State needs a comprehensive water infrastructure plan."

Assemblyman Bob Sweeney, who chairs the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee, said, "The DEC study is a loud wake-up call. The effects of not funding these needs are already being felt - the environment is degraded, beaches are closed and economic development is being stifled. New York State cannot fund these improvements alone."

Meanwhile, federal assistance has plummeted. In 1987, the federal government provided $2.4 billion in loans to states for wastewater infrastructure projects. By 2008, that support plunged to $687 million.

In New York, federal assistance fell from $227 million in 1991 to $75.1 million in 2007.

A recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report stated that funding for the loan program is set to end in 2011. Earlier this year, Governor Paterson and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote to U.S. Senate and House leaders to urge them to continue support of the loan fund.

DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis said, "We've come a long way from the days when the Hudson River was referred to as an open sewer. The last thing we want to do is turn the clock back to those days. That's why we have to take action. This is a statewide issue, impacting municipalities and water bodies in every corner of New York. And we need a statewide effort, spearheaded by this collaborative, to raise awareness about the need for action and the costs of inaction."

{Image: Winning 2007 poster from the Dept. of Environmental Conservation wastewater poster contest by Sarah Kuzmack, Comsewogue High School}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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