The Pipeline

Report Urges Federal Spending on Water Infrastructure

Washington, D.C. - Congress should pass legislation this year to renew the nation's commitment to clean and safe water, according to a new report from the Water Infrastructure Network, a non-partisan coalition of local elected officials, drinking water and wastewater service providers, environmental groups, labor unions and construction and engineering professionals.

In the report, the network calls for a five-year, $57 billion federal investment in drinking water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure to replace aging pipes, upgrade treatment systems and continue to protect public health and the environment. The report also urges Congress to create a long-term, sustainable and reliable source of federal funding for clean and safe water.

The report, Water Infrastructure Now, indicates that the funding increase is urgently needed to help close a $23 billion per year gap between infrastructure needs and current spending.

Local governments and their ratepayers currently cover 90 percent of the costs to build, operate and maintain public water and sewer systems. However, as older systems deteriorate and water quality rules tighten, local budgets simply cannot keep pace, according to the report.

"The staggering cost of maintaining, operating, rehabilitating, and replacing our aging water infrastructure requires a new partnership between federal, state and local government," said Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, president of the National League of Cities. "We call upon the new leadership in Washington to renew the federal financial commitment to assist local governments in meeting the growing water and wastewater infrastructure needs."

To bridge the investment gap, the federal government should meet localities halfway - by authorizing an average of $11.5 billion in capitalization funds over five years - the report proposes. States would receive the funds and in turn offer grants and loans to local agencies. In an era of unprecedented federal surpluses, the time for renewing the nation's commitment to its water resources is now, the report's authors said.

Other legislative recommendations in the report include:

  • Authorizing a variety of financing mechanisms, such as grants, loans, loan subsidies and credit assistance;
  • Focusing on critical "core" water and wastewater infrastructure needs and nonpoint source pollution;
  • Streamlining the federal and state administration of infrastructure funds and adequately financing state programs;
  • Establishing a new program for technology and management innovation to reduce costs, prolong the life of America's water infrastructure and improve productivity;
  • Providing expanded, targeted technical assistance to communities most in need.

The report can be accessed at www.amsa-cleanwater.org/advocacy/winow.htm.

Resurrecting Dead Zones Along the Mississippi River

Washington, D.C. - Environmental Protection Agency, along with nine other federal agencies, nine states along the Mississippi River, and two tribes have developed an action plan to reduce the size of the "dead zone," a large, oxygen-starved area of the Gulf of Mexico which threatens the nation's most productive and valuable fishing grounds. The states and federal agencies have agreed to work together to cut the "dead zone" by about half its average size over the next 15 years.

According to EPA officials, the action plan establishes a goal of reducing the so-called "dead zone" by reducing its size by half by 2015. The officials also have agreed to develop strategies to reduce nutrients entering the Gulf, particularly the amount of nitrogen, by 30 percent. The action plan calls for continued research and monitoring to better understand this problem and use the information as a basis to modify the goals and actions as may be necessary in the future. The action plan, which has been praised by both environmental and farm industry groups, also calls for incentive-based approaches be used to improve water quality protection in agriculture.

Every summer along the Texas-Louisiana portion of the Gulf of Mexico, certain nutrients, especially nitrogen, drain down from the Mississippi River into the Gulf and decrease the oxygen supply to aquatic organisms. This area becomes and is referred to as a "dead zone," because some organisms die while others flee the area. The decrease in oxygen, called hypoxia, affects an area that over the last five years has averaged 5,454 square miles off Louisiana's coast. This area has traditionally been one of the nation's most productive fisheries.

The decrease in oxygen is primarily the result of excess nitrogen from the 31-state Mississippi River drainage basin. A significant portion of the nutrients entering the Gulf from the Mississippi River come from human activities: discharges from sewage treatment and industrial wastewater treatment plants and storm water runoff from city streets and farms. Nutrients from automobile exhaust and fossil-fueled power plants also enter the waterways and the Gulf through air deposition to the vast land area drained by the Mississippi River and its tributaries. About 90 percent of the nitrates entering the Gulf come from runoff. About 56 percent of the nitrates enter the Mississippi River above the Ohio River. The Ohio basin adds 34 percent of the nitrates. High nitrogen loads come from basins receiving wastewater discharges and draining agricultural lands in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, southern Minnesota and Ohio.

Under the action plan, states, working as river-basin committees, would have flexibility to develop the most effective, practical measures to reduce discharges of nutrients and remove them from their waters. The strategies are expected to rely heavily on voluntary and incentive-based approaches for dealing with agricultural runoff and restoring wetlands. The action plan calls for new resources to fund these activities, EPA officials said.

"The use of regulatory mechanisms would impose excessive cost burdens on producers," said Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau Federation president. "Properly funded assistance programs that work with farmers to retain productivity while improving water quality will be more efficient and effective."

Scott Faber, a water resources specialist for Environmental Defense, said that the next Farm Bill will help decide the future health of the Gulf of Mexico. "Many farmers are implementing practices that help combat hypoxia, but nearly as many farmers who want to help are being turned away due to inadequate federal funding."

Environmental Defense called on Congress to expand incentive programs administered by the Department of Agriculture, including programs that pay farmers to restore lost wetlands, retire environmentally-sensitive lands, install buffers of trees and grasses along streams, and implement other practices that reduce fertilizer use or that intercept and filter polluted runoff. Environmental Defense also urged Congress to create new programs to reuse manure. Congress may reauthorize federal farm programs this year.

Since l997, EPA has chaired the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force to develop this plan for reducing Gulf hypoxia. In l998, Congress passed the Harmful Algal Boom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act, which specifically requires this action plan.

The plan and additional information are available on EPA's Office of Water Web site at www.epa.gov/ow, under "What's New."

New Guidelines Effluent Discharges from Oil and Gas Drilling

Washington, D.C. - Final standards and guidelines for discharges into waterways from oil and gas drilling operations that use synthetic-based drilling fluids were issued on Jan. 22, Environmental Protection Agency officials announced.

The new rule applies to oil and natural gas extraction drilling beyond three miles from shore. Most of the affected facilities are located beyond three miles from shore in the Gulf of Mexico, beyond three miles off the coast of California, and off Cook Inlet, Alaska. The rule does not apply to offshore oil and gas facilities located within three miles of a coastal area, which are covered by a separate effluent guideline allowing no discharges.

EPA officials said they expect implementation of this rule to reduce annual discharges of pollutants into water by 118 million pounds per year, to reduce air emissions by nearly 3,000 tons a year, and to reduce energy use by the equivalent of 200,817 barrels of oil from new and existing sources. EPA projects that the overall economic effect will be a significant savings in operating costs, to result in an annual savings of $48.9 million, with no adverse economic impacts to drilling operators.

Effluent limitation guidelines are national regulations, specific to individual industries, issued under the Clean Water Act that control the discharge of pollutants to surface waters and to publicly-owned treatment works.

Additional information on the final effluent limitations guidelines and standards for synthetic-based drilling fluids is available www.epa.gov/ost/guide/sbf.

Proposed Bill Seeks MTBE Ban in Gasoline

Washington, D.C. - Sen. Peter G. Fitzgerald (R-IL) reintroduced a bill that would ban the fuel additive methyl tertiary butyl ether. The measure, which Fitzgerald originally proposed last spring, would phase out MTBE use without altering existing clean air laws, paving the way for ethanol to replace MTBE as the leading additive in the nation's clean air program.

"Tainted drinking water is an unacceptable price to pay for cleaner air, particularly when there is a viable alternative to MTBE," Fitzgerald stated. "We should eliminate MTBE without sacrificing air quality, and I believe we can do that by promoting ethanol as an environmentally friendlier substitute in the clean air program."

MTBE, an oxygenate that helps fuel burn cleaner, has been found in groundwater in several states, and some studies suggest that the fuel additive may pose health risks.

Fitzgerald's MTBE Elimination Act would completely phase out MTBE within three years. The bill also requires, in the meantime, that all gasoline containing MTBE be properly labeled.

While some senators favor eliminating MTBE by repealing the oxygenate requirement - the provision in the Clean Air Act that mandates the production of reformulated gasoline - Fitzgerald said that this approach could needlessly jeopardize air quality improvements achieved over the last decade. Instead, Fitzgerald's bill would ban MTBE outright while leaving existing clean air standards in place.

The senator said that ethanol has proven effective at reducing emissions without the harmful side effects of MTBE. However, concerns have been cited by organizations such as the Oxygenated Fuels Association that ethanol is a poor substitute for MTBE due to supply problems and ethanol's contribution to the formation of smog.

USGS Introduces New Streamflow Estimating System

Massachusetts - Estimating streamflows in areas where there are no gauges once took days but now only takes minutes. Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey have developed a "user-friendly" streamflow-estimating system, called "Streamstats," that uses an equation-based method for estimating statistics that indicate the range of streamflow that can be expected at user-selected sites.

A pilot project has been completed in Massachusetts, and the USGS plans to implement this kind of service, which can be accessed on the Internet at ma.water.usgs.gov/streamstats, nationwide as part of its National Streamflow Information Program.

"With this new Web-based tool, users can view maps of areas of interest. They need only to select a site on a stream to get estimates of streamflow statistics," said USGS hydrologist Kernell Ries, the principal investigator. "Automatically the physical characteristics of the watershed that drains to the site will be measured, a set of equations will be solved, and the estimated streamflow statistics and a location map will be provided to your desktop within seconds."

Ries said that previously, users of streamflow statistics had to measure the physical characteristics and insert them into the equations by hand, which can be tedious and time-consuming.

The estimating method and the Web page are described in a report and a fact sheet that have just been released to the public. These products were developed in collaboration between USGS and MassGIS, the state geographic information agency, and the Massachusetts departments of Environmental Management and Environmental Protection.

Federal, state, and local agencies need streamflow statistics for such activities as developing environmentally sound river basin management plans and siting and permitting of new water withdrawals, interbasin transfers and discharges of pollutants.

USGS hydrologists developed a set of 13 equations that can be used to estimate streamflow statistics for most streams in Massachusetts based on long-term records of flow from USGS streamgages. At the web site, users are shown a map of Massachusetts with town boundaries and locations of USGS data-collection sites. Users can select the location of a data-collection site to get streamflow statistics for the site from a database or they can select any site on a stream to automatically get estimated streamflow statistics and prediction intervals that indicate the accuracy of the estimates for the site they selected.

Voinovich Introduces Bill to Fund Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund

Washington, D.C. - Citing a need to address infrastructure needs while the costs are manageable, Sen. George V. Voinovich introduced legislation that would increase the annual authorization of the loan program financing improvements to wastewater treatment facilities.

The Clean Water Infrastructure Financing Act (S. 252) would provide $3 billion per year for five years in grants to states which in turn loan the funds to local communities to repair and upgrade existing wastewater treatment facilities. In addition, Voinovich's legislation would provide technical and planning assistance for small water systems, expand the types of projects eligible for loan assistance and offer financially distressed communities extended loan repayment periods and principal subsidies.

The new funds would go to the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, which was created in 1987 to provide low-interest or no-interest loans to help address local wastewater infrastructure needs. The money, appropriated through EPA's appropriation bill, has been funded at $1.35 billion for the past several years.

A survey conducted by Environmental Protection Agency in 1996 documented $139 billion worth of wastewater capital needs nationwide. In April 1999, that national assessment was revised upward to nearly $200 billion, while some private studies have estimated the needs to be closer to $300 billion.

Companies to Pay $835 Million in Damages Caused by Oil Spill

Puerto Rico - Caribbean Petroleum Corp., MetLife Capital Corp. and Water Quality Insurance Syndicate will pay $83.5 million to the federal and Puerto Rican governments to settle claims related to a 1994 barge grounding that caused an 800,000 gallon oil spill, Justice Department officials announced.

The parties will reimburse the federal government for the costs the government incurred while removing oil and cleaning up beaches and other areas near San Juan, Puerto Rico, which included damage claims submitted by fishermen, hotels and small businesses. The settlement also compensates natural resource trustees of the federal government and Puerto Rico for injuries to natural resources and for assessment costs, and Puerto Rico for its economic claims.

On Jan. 7, 1994, the barge Morris J. Berman ran aground off the coast of Puerto Rico as it was under tow with the tug Emily S from San Juan to Antigua, British West Indies. The ship, carrying a cargo of almost 1.5 million gallons of oil, discharged fuel oil into the surrounding waters and beaches.

The owners and operators of the barge assisted in cleaning up the oil for the first several days. The U.S. Coast Guard then undertook the remainder of the cleanup effort, which took over five months of continuous response activity, including the processing of approximately one thousand damage claims using funds from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. The fund, created by Congress in 1990 following the Exxon Valdez spill, provides money to respond to oil spills and to pay damage claims. Under the settlement, $60 million will be deposited into the fund, the largest recovery in the fund's history.

"This settlement again demonstrates the United States' commitment to protecting the nation's waters and natural resources," said David W. Ogden, assistant attorney general in charge of the Civil Division.

During the oil pollution incident, the barge crushed a reef and discharged oil onto nearby land, affecting beaches and parklands in Puerto Rico. Natural resource trustees - including the Department of the Interior, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - assessed the damage and determined that it was appropriate to address injuries to the reef and injuries related to the public's loss of use of beaches and historic sites. A plan with proposed restoration projects will be made available soon for public comment.

Historic Partnership Caps Conservation Conference

Fort Worth, Texas - Six of the key federal, state, and local organizations responsible for managing western agricultural water supplies joined together in a new "Bridging-the-Headgate" partnership in the Water Resources Forum at the recent National Association of Conservation Districts convention in Fort Worth, Texas.

The partnership brings the National Water Resources Association, the Western States Water Council and the Bureau of Reclamation together with the NACD, the National Association of State Conservation Agencies and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

In signing the "Bridging-the-Headgate" agreement, the federal, state and local partners have acknowledged the need to work together for the sustainable and efficient use of western agricultural water supplies.

In terms of western agriculture, a "headgate" can be thought of as an agricultural "faucet" through which local farmers receive their irrigation water from local water suppliers or districts. Reclamation, WSWC, and NWRA represent the federal, state and local organizations that serve those farmers from the "off-farm," or water supply, side of those agricultural headgates.

The intent of the partnership is to encourage and facilitate increased collaboration among local irrigation districts, conservation districts, state water resource agencies, conservation agencies, and local Reclamation and NRCS offices in addressing western agricultural water management issues and opportunities.

U.S. Cities Need New Pipes

Washington, D.C. - Water and sewer bills, on average, will have to double without a big federal investment in new pipes and modern treatment plants, local governments and water agencies said in a study being released February 13.

Safely moving clean water and flushed wastes involves a "staggering cost," said Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, president of the National League of Cities. Older systems soon will need to be replaced, and that will take "a new partnership between federal, state, and local government," he said in a statement.

The league and 28 other organizations are urging Congress to put up $57 billion over the next five years to help localities meet environmental requirements, replace old pipes and upgrade their plants.

"Local governments alone cannot keep pace with the skyrocketing costs of new drinking water and wastewater infrastructure," agreed William Schatz of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District in Cleveland.

Local governments and individual ratepayers currently bear about 90 percent of the cost of providing clean tap water and running wastewater systems, said Schatz, who has been lobbying on behalf of the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies for more federal dollars.

Keeping up with the nation's water and sewer needs will cost $1 trillion over the next 20 years, say private and government studies. That's about $23 billion a year more than already is being spent by state and local governments and ratepayers combined.

"Financing the full $23 billion a year need with utility rate increases would result in a doubling of rates, on average, across the nation," the report says. "If this were to happen, at least a third of the population of the United States would face economic hardship."

Experts predict an acute need for repairs and replacement of water and sewer facilities because many of the nation's wastewater treatment plants were built at roughly the same time - in the 1970s and early 1980s - with roughly a 30- to 40-year life span.

Those plants connect to underground pipes whose 50 to 75-year average life spans are ending or, in the oldest cities, to cast iron or brick pipes laid about 100 years ago and nearing the end of their useful lives.

Congress has begun to recognize the looming problem, but so far there have been few moves in the direction sought by Archer, Schatz and the numerous interest groups working together as the Water Infrastructure Network.

Last year, Congress created a $1.5 billion, two-year grant program to help municipalities deal with part of the infrastructure problem - combined systems that use the same conduits for sewage and rainwater

Last week, Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, proposed a $15 billion, five-year program to deal with other wastewater infrastructure improvements, but he said Monday he knows that won't be enough to make all the needed improvements.

"Additional solutions need to be found," Voinovich said. "The size of the need continues to be enormous and the safety of our water supply and the environment cannot be ignored."

The groups lobbying together for a massive federal investment suggested a variety of proposals including grants and loans, loan subsidies and research into ways to extend the life-span of existing infrastructure.

Spain Approves Controversial $21 Billion Water Plan

Madrid, Spain - On February 9 Spain approved a controversial $21 billion plan to transfer water from the Ebro River in the north to the parched east and south, overriding concerns it could endanger the environment and wildlife.

The government says the plan is crucial to the future development of Spain and complies with environmental standards.

Ecologists claim it violates European Union's rules and would ruin the habitat of the Iberian lynx, a species on the edge of extinction.

"Taking water out of just one river to irrigate all Spain obviously cannot be (right), and the world is increasingly conscious that the transfer of resources has to be limited to the indispensable," Pascual Maragall, a Socialist opposition leader in the northeastern Catalonia region said.

The project, held up for 15 years by regional bickering, would drain the Ebro of 1,050 cubic hectometres of water a year - enough to provide Spain's 40 million people with 70 liters a day each, according to local press estimates.

The Ebro, one of Spain's biggest rivers, originates in the northern Cantabria region and meanders 625 miles south-eastward to the Mediterranean Sea.

The water project, involving a series of new dams and water diversions, has prompted mass protests in the northern region of Aragon, but has been cheered in the dry southeast.

In October, a reported 300,000 protesters marched through the Aragon capital of Zaragoza, along the banks of the Ebro, soon after the government approved a preliminary version of the plan.

The protesters fear that small farms would disappear and the interior of the sparsely populated, land-locked region would be ruined.

Arid southeastern regions like Murcia and Almeria, famous for their desert-like landscapes, would be some of the areas to benefit most.

Not Clear Why Florida Reefs Dying

Fort Pierce, Fla. - Some scientists hypothesize that nitrogen flowing into Florida Bay from the Everglades is quickly killing once vibrant coral reefs far to the south in the Florida Keys.

Others say sewage and nutrients created by man and flowing from the Keys into the ocean are to blame for the dying of the underwater world, the only living shallow water reef system off the continental United States.

Scientists are just beginning to try to understand what is causing biological changes in this underwater home to fish, grasses, sponges and multiple other forms of sea life, but there's no consensus yet. Many scientists agree that in recent years reefs worldwide have suffered a 10 percent loss in coral.

The reasons vary. In Hawaii, scientists blamed badly sedimented reefs at Kahoolawe on soil erosion on the mainland. After goats eating grasses on the coastline were removed the reefs began recovering.

In Australia, scientists believe global warming caused devastation to the Great Barrier Reef in 1998, saying soaring temperatures caused the bleaching of reefs, making them vulnerable to diseases.

Scientist Brian Lapointe of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution theorizes that water is overenriched with nitrogen from artificial fertilizers that is flowing from sugar cane fields in the Everglades to Florida Bay is causing drastic changes to ocean water that is killing the reefs.

Other biologists give little credence to Lapointe's theory, saying water dumped into Florida Bay likely never reaches the reefs, which sit more than 100 miles away.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 1998 predicted about two-thirds of the world's reefs may be dying. About 10 percent are beyond recovery and 30 percent may die within 10 to 20 years, NOAA said.

The underwater world has been around for at least a couple of million years and while man's influence on marine ecology - from overfishing to coral breakage caused by divers to polluted water - have had a significant affect the health of reefs, there may still be time to regenerate life.

"Since it is the living coral that builds the reefs, it is of deep concern to see this kind of downward trend. But reefs have been with us for many thousands of years so in the long term, I have optimism about coral reefs," Kruczynski said. "We don't know if this is just a blip in the long term."

The above news briefs were adapted from articles that first appeared in the environmental news letter produced by Stevens Publishing Corp.: Environmental Protection News.

For concise, continuous coverage of the news and issues that affect all aspects of the environmental industry, call Ralph Jensen at (972) 687-6745, visit www.stevenspublishing.com.


This article appeared in the March 2001 issue of Environmental Protection, Vol. 12, No. 3, on page 50.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2001 issue of Environmental Protection.

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