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Mayors Pleased that EPA Takes Signifcant Step Regarding Clean Water Costs

By Judy Sheahan
October 15, 2012

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials met with members of the Conference of Mayors Water Council on October 5 in Washington (DC) to discuss the tremendous costs associated with implementation of the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts. The mayors raised concerns regarding the costs of implementing these standards and the severe economic impact on low- and middle-income residents in their communities.

The Conference of Mayors asked, and EPA agreed, to enter into an “affordability dialogue” to discuss how the goals of the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts can be met but in an affordable fashion.

EPA officials who spoke at the meeting included Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator, Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, and Ken Kopocis, Senior Advisor, Office of Water. In addition, representatives from the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties were also present at the meeting and have agreed to participate in this discussion.

Local Governments have spent, from 1972–2009, $920.8 billion on drinking water systems and $745.7 billion on sewer systems, for a total expenditure of $1.67 trillion. In the last five years that Census has published data (2005–2009), local governments expended more than $466 billion on water and wastewater systems alone. During this same time period, the federal government gave out about $12 billion in grants to states who in turn loaned the money to local governments through these State Revolving Loan Funds. This makes local governments the single biggest investor in protecting human health and improving the environment.

EPA has estimated that over the next 20 years, there is a $500 billion “needs gap” for water and wastewater capital expenditures as well as operation and maintenance. The Conference of Mayors has done their own analysis and based on historical indicators, the projections for local government spending could range from $2.5–$4.8 trillion over the next 20 years.

To finance these costs, the mayors said, would place or have already placed a detrimental financial burden on their citizens, particularly for low- and moderate-income residents. The goal for this intergovernmental dialogue is to identify near and long term ideas as to how to assure safe and clean water but in a cost-effective and affordable manner.

“Our nation’s mayors have proudly made protecting our nation’s water systems such a high priority that our drinking water is among the safest in the world. But they cannot do this alone and we cannot expect our citizens to continue picking up the tab without federal assistance,” said Conference of Mayors CEO and Executive Director Tom Cochran. “It is everyone’s responsibility to pitch in to protect our nation’s most important resource, our water.”