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Ohio Public Water System Thirsty for $9.7B in Infrastructure Improvements

Sat January 14, 2006 - Midwest Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

Just as the incessant drip, drip, drip of a nighttime faucet undoubtedly turns into a trickle — and costs more in wasted water — if left unfixed, Ohioans will be experiencing a similar scenario after a recent survey shows approximately twice as much repair work is necessary on the public water systems than just six years ago.

Not that the $4.9-billion price tag the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) forecasted in 1999 for Ohio is a drop in the bucket, but that figure has now risen to an estimated $9.7 billion. In a survey released in 2005 of 125 public water systems conducted by the U.S. EPA, $264 billion is needed to fix much more than leaky faucets nationwide.

“We just have older infrastructure. They’re having more breakage,” said Stacy Barna, an environmental supervisor of EPA’s Division of Drinking and Ground Waters.

How old? “We do have lines that are more than 100 years old,” said Columbus Division of Water’s Richard Westerfield, including some in use that are made of wood. And you thought that hint of oak just came in a high-quality Cabernet.

Along with the decaying wood and iron pipes of centuries past, public water systems are looking to replace asbestos lines built in the 1970s.

Besides upgrading pipe materials resembling 18th century technology more than the 21st century, water divisions need to serve the growing demand by expanding the current 2-in. lines to ones at least 6 in. in diameter.

According to U.S. EPA’s “Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment Third Report to Congress,” which was released in June 2005, Ohio’s $9.7-billion estimated need is ninth highest in the nation for water systems improvements over the next 20 years.

Based on utilities data collected in 2003, the report stated that “local water utilities must make significant investments to install, upgrade or replace equipment in order to deliver safe drinking water and protect public health.”

According to the U.S. EPA, the inflated projected cost more than the 1999 figures is due to “an emphasis on capturing previously underreported needs for infrastructure rehabilitation and replacement.”

The 60-percent increase in the projected amount that the nation’s water systems need “includes installation of new infrastructure as well as rehabilitation or replacement of deteriorated or undersized infrastructure. It also includes the need to address aging infrastructure that is adequate now but will require replacement or significant rehabilitation over the next 20 years.”

Obviously more funding is needed to meet these needs and local communities are doing all they can just to stay afloat.

In trying to keep a step ahead of growth, Delaware County is raising consumer rates 3 percent annually to upgrade water-treatment plants, storage and new supply sources, while new houses built in Licking County cost homeowners $2,510 in order to join the water system.

(This article is reprinted courtesy of “Infrastructure Insight,” the official newsletter of the Ohio Construction Information Association.)

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