Category Archives: Water
We all need it, and we all want clean water to come out of our faucets. Unfortunately, our aging infrastructure system threatens the delivery of that necessary, clean water. The underground pipes are reaching the end of their useful lives. The decline of these systems means more water disruptions, more contaminated water, and less reliable delivery of water to our ever-growing population. The cost of repairing and replacing our water and waste water systems will only continue to grow the longer we wait.
On February 28th, Aurel Arndt, general manager of Lehigh County Authority, spoke before the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment on behalf of the American Water Works Association (AWWA). Aurel is no stranger to the need to rejuvenate our water infrastructure; he has worked for the Lehigh County Authority since 1974. During his service, he has seen the decline in our community’s water infrastructure. Aurel highlighted the large, yet absolutely necessary, expense to restore the buried drinking water systems as well as the above-ground drinking water facilities, waste water, storm water, and other water-related infrastructure in his remarks to the subcommittee. The cost for such an overhaul is well over $1 trillion, but the ultimate cost for letting our water infrastructure deteriorate further and attempting expensive emergency repairs without a feasible solution will be much more costly.
AWWA recently released a report entitled, “Buried No Longer: Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge.” The report focused on the need to address the current water infrastructure nearing the end of its useful life. It succeeds AWWA’s report, “Dawn of the Replacement Era,” in which AWWA first noted hat the time had come for our water systems to be replaced before they completely fall apart. (This report and other AWWA material can be found on our website at www.renewlv.org/water.)
In his remarks, Aurel and AWWA endorsed a new approach to funding the overhaul of our water infrastructure– the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA). The act is modeled after the highly successful Transportation Infrastructure and Innovation Act (TIFIA). WIFIA would lower the cost of infrastructure investment and alter the financing process so that communities would be able to afford the necessary replacements in their water systems. WIFIA would “assist communities in meeting the nation’s water infrastructure needs in a manner that would have minimal cost to the federal government while complementing existing financial mechanisms, maintaining the current federal role, leveraging private capital, and creating vital manufacturing and construction jobs.” The entire program would provide a feasible solution for communities to address the water infrastructure problem, while also providing a cleaner environment and greater quality of life for residents. (Read Aurel Arndt’s full statement.)
Renew Lehigh Valley has encouraged a regional and cooperative approach to the water infrastructure challenges facing the Lehigh Valley. The WIFIA legislation would provide a means for cost efficient solutions to be developed for the communities within the Lehigh Valley, while also fostering a mindset of sustainable growth and development. Water is vital to our existence. It’s time to bring the discussion about our water infrastructure challenges above-ground and address them as an entire Lehigh Valley.
Sure, the Marcellus Shale drilling isn’t happening here in the Lehigh Valley, but the effects will certainly be felt statewide both economically and environmentally. This is a hot-button issue in Pennsylvania right now. Even if the drilling isn’t occurring right in the Lehigh Valley, it is still every Pennsylvanian’s responsibility to become educated about the issue as an informed and active citizen.
PennEnvironment, a state-wide citizen-based environmental advocacy organization will be in Bethlehem on December 6th for a Marcellus Shale Citizen Organizer Training Session. Their goal: “to train 1,000 Pennsylvanians with the skills they need to protect their communities from gas drilling. Whether you’re new to activism or been [sic] on the front lines of the Marcellus Shale, this training will help you take the fight to the next level.” Below are the details of the training:
WHAT: Lehigh Valley Marcellus Shale Citizen Organizer Training
WHERE: Unitarian Universalist Church of the Lehigh Valley, 424 Center St, Bethlehem, PA
WHEN: Tuesday, December 6, 6-9 p.m.
RenewLV is not a sponsor of this event, but strongly encourages citizens to become educated to participate in their local communities. If you are interested in this event or want more information regarding PennEnvironment, visit: https://secure3.convio.net/engage/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=3865.
I’m not sure that we ever posted the new EPA sustainability policy on clean water and drinking water infrastructure, but it is something that we link to on our Regional Water Infrastructure page and tend to mention often in our presentations.
It’s noteworthy that the policy places a tremendous focus on long-term planning approaches and sustainability. This is very similar to RenewLV’s own water and wastewater policy, and we are pleased to be aligned with the EPA’s standards.
Check out the policy here. What are your thoughts on this document?
Yesterday, Gov. Rendell announced that the state would be investing $174 million into PA’s water infrastructure across 21 counties. Most of this money is being spent in the form of low-interest loans to the various county entities and water treatment plants, with only $20 million being used in the form of grants.
- Allentown City received an $8.6 million loan to replace all of the city’s water meters with new units incorporating mobile read technology, enhancing the ability to detect water leaks and allowing the city to manage its water system more efficiently.
- Allentown City received a $670,000 loan to repair leaks in the Schantz Spring transmission main that are causing costly water losses to the city.
- Lehigh County Authority received a $1.8 million loan to replace 2,700 outdated water meters and backflow preventers, thus eliminating possible contamination of the water system and improving the operating efficiency of the system.
ARC’s dead. Moving on.
So here’s a cool thing. PA farmers have generated a pretty solid amount of nutrient abatement credits by taking means to combat different sources of non-point pollution. These steps are being taken to help prevent nutrient pollution in watersheds, primarily the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
David Thompson of the Sun Gazette writes:
Farmers install riparian forest buffers to filter out nutrients before they enter the waterway, fencing to keep livestock out of streams, no-till planting and cover crops to reduce soil erosion and other conservation practices to generate the credits.
The credits are generated by farmers through abatement methods like those discussed above, and then sold to industries that tend to add nutrients to water, like wastewater treatment facilities.
There are some regulations in place to help guide what does and doesn’t qualify for an abatement credit, though it’s still worth wondering how many pounds of nutrients have actually been abated, and how effective the credit trading scheme has been across different types of pollutants.
Provided the abatement program is properly monitored and regulated, it seems more or less like a win-win. Farmers get money for continued abatement, industry is encouraged to get in line in a way that is not overly economically damaging to them.
The individual counties earn some revenue from the auction of excess credits, but since this revenue is supposed to be directed towards “mak[ing] multiple trips to each farm, creat[ing] detailed spread sheets that calculate the credits, submit[ting] documentation to the DEP and respond[ing] to any questions the agency may have” to certify credits, it doesn’t sound likely that the counties make out with much of a net revenue gain.
I just hope that the program is adaquately enforced, and the threshhold for nutrient emissions is set low enough that treatment plants have an economic incentive to participate in the trading scheme, rather than emit anyway and pay any fines that would occur.
Bob Herbert in the New York Times laments about the blissful ignorance we have exercised in regard to our water infrastructure. We’ve all read the stories (sadly, many of them Lehigh Valley stories) about pipes bursting, stormwater overflows, and many, many other issues (most notably concerning drinking water contamination). Herbert writes:
There is, of course, no reason for this to be the case. If this were a first-class society we would rebuild our water systems to the point where they would be the envy of the world, and that would bolster the economy in the bargain. But that would take maturity and vision and effort and sacrifice, all of which are in dismayingly short supply right now.
We can’t even build a railroad tunnel beneath the Hudson River from New Jersey to New York.
Oooh, nice jab there, Bob. He, of course, is referring to the now-cancelled ARC project in New Jersey.
Where is the political will for infrastructure improvements? And how can the public take a greater interest in our infrastructure — especially our water infrastructure?
To learn more about RenewLV’s work on water resource management, visit our Regional Water Initiative page.
Moravian College will be hosting Dr. Vandana Shiva on Tuesday, October 12th at 7:30 in Prosser Auditorium. Shiva’s educational history and awards are numerous, but suffice it to say that she’s a world-renowned activist for environmental issues, especially those centering around climate change and the developing world.
I had the privilege of seeing Dr. Shiva speak a few times at last year’s Conference of the Parties on climate change and, while the conference overall was a massive letdown, Shiva was one of the more interesting highlights of the trip. She’s can be very radical in her approach at times so it will be interesting to see what she discusses at this event.
As far as getting there, Prosser Auditorium is located in the Haupert Union Building(HUB) just off of Main St. in Bethlehem.
Address to get there: 1200 Main St. Bethlehem, PA 18018.
Did you get a chance to open the Opinion section of the Morning Call today? If so, then you know that it was dominated by thoughts on the drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale and other areas of the Delaware River and Lehigh River watersheds.
On the Sounding Board, today’s question was: “Should regulations come down on the side of “gas rush” economic progress, or should the moratorium be continued until the state has new laws and regulations to make drilling environmentally sound?” Surprisingly, all of the responses came down on the side of waiting longer to draft better regulations — but that’s where the agreements ended. Read the full answers at the Morning Call online.
The issue of Marcellus Shale is sure to be brought up over the next year and during the upcoming election cycle. What are your thoughts on this?
At yesterday’s American Infrastructure at a Crossroads event, held at Central Pennsylvania College, the discussion focused not only on the kind of infrastructure we typically think of — roads and bridges, rail, water/wastewater — but also on the slightly atypical — web infrastructure. It was all with an eye toward encouraging state and federal legislators to prioritize infrastructure spending. The panel was made up of experts from various fields, including engineering, labor, and environment. And — surprise, surprise — the Director of Google Pittburgh was there representing the web infrastructure perspective.
US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood delivered his message via satellite, as he had a meeting in Washington that day also on the topic of infrastructure. Sec. LaHood stressed that the American public’s desire to see high-speed rail lines established across the nation will be fueling the administration’s agenda to bring rail to all major cities over the next decade. When the discussion turned to the establishement of regional passenger rail networks within Pennsylvania, Sec. LaHood stressed the public to keep contacting their legislators in order to encourage them to make passenger rail a top priority.
Though a majority of the discussion centered on transportation infrastructure, some mention was made on the importance of upgrading our nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure. Dick Gephardt, speaking on the panel, acknowledged that much of our water infrastructure had not been upgraded for decades and that the systems are reaching the end of, or are exceeding, their life expectancy. This is not new information to those that have been working on this issue or following it closely in the news. It is almost on a weekly basis now that we hear about a pipe bursting or about contamination of a local stream by wastewater overflow.
Overall, the mood was hopeful, with leaders and experts encouraging the audience to continue contacting state and federal legislators and telling them that infrastructure spending should be a priority. This is especially important in Pennsylvania, as we are looking at a significant gap in our transportation funding (as part of Act 44). Governor Rendell warned that the funding gap would have a crippling effect on the Commonwealth’s essential transportation network, and that the state’s economy depended on this network.
The only disappointment I took away from the event was the insufficient coverage that sustainable design received in the discussions. Livable communities were briefly mentioned by Sec. LaHood at the beginning, but there was little or no talk of walking or bicycling infrastructure throughout the entire session. As Matt Zieger poignantly stated on his Twitter, “It’s a simple equation…if people live more closely together, infrastructure costs are lower! (less miles of road/pipe/wire/fiber).”
Make sure to follow us on Twitter @renewlv to catch up on all of our coverage of yesterday’s event.
Could this be a wake-up call for local municipalities to look into innovative solutions to their water infrastructure problems? Perhaps.
The Morning Call reports that the federal government stepped in to reduce the water costs for the residents of Pen Argyl after the borough needed to raise fees on its customers by 300%. The borough was forced to upgrade its sewage treatment plant in 2008, an $11 million setback that will now be partially reimbursed by the feds. The borough faced a sewage violation in 2006 that cost $250,000 in fines. Borough Manager Robin Zmoda stated:
A lot of municipalities are going to find out that improving the infrastructure of your municipal sewer systems is very costly. It’s very difficult for municipalities meeting some of the limits the EPA and DEP are putting on us.
I have two comments on this story. First, it provides a local and salient anecdote of the sort of problems that many municipalities across the Commonwealth (and in the Lehigh Valley) will be facing in the coming years. It could provide enough encouragement for the rise of multi-municipal consolidation plans in regard to water resource management.
Second, while it’s great that the borough received help from the government in off-setting costs of the upgrade, it is interesting to note that such grant money seems to only be dispensed for emergency situations. Unfortunately, as it stands, there is little incentive for long-term planning as such efforts are rarely financially rewarded, even though they are much more likely to provide cost savings in the long run. In a sense, aren’t we provided with more incentive to ignore our infrastructure problems?
To learn more about RenewLV’s work on water and wastewater issues in the Lehigh Valley, visit RenewLV’s Regional Water Initiative page.