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.
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?
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.
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.
At last week’s Building One Pennsylvania summit in Lancaster, many organizations — both large and small — came out and preached the message of regionalism. As numerous older communities across Pennsylvania are struggling, newer developments are receiving federal and state subsidies and focus government assistance away from the urban cores.
Leaders from Pennsylvania’s communities, advocacy groups, and the urban planning field discussed the need to change state and federal policies that encourage cheap developments in greenfields. If history has anything to teach us, it is that such developments are unsustainable in the long-term. Many of our older communities were also the recipients of such government assistance many decades ago — and now these municipalities are struggling to keep up with rising costs of fixing crumbling infrastructure and taking care of students in the school districts.
What can we do moving forward? The message I took away from the summit was to keep working on regional collaboration and keep spreading the message of regionalism within our respective communities. With enough outreach, legislation and policies will begin to materialize that promote better and more coordinated planning that encourages new development in places that already have existing infrastructure (preferably, in brownfields).
RenewLV will keep working on regional collaboration issues within the Lehigh Valley. While the Lehigh Valley Health Department did not pass the Health Commission meeting last night, there are still many opportunities for moving forward with regionalism here within the Lehigh Valley and we will continue partnering with regional entities on various initiatives.
Peter Gleick, a long-time expert on environmental safety, provides a great take on the need to invest funds into our nation’s aging water infrastructure system. Gleick praises the US water system for being one of the most advanced in the world, and he traces its history back to the industrial age and the effect that clean tap water had on the economy of the nation and the health of the general population. But we are beginning to fall behind now, with infrastructure beginning to decay and the public losing trust in the water system. Gleick gives the prescription for this:
If local water agencies priced their water properly — remember, Americans pay fractions of a penny per gallon of tap water, compared with $4 or more for a gallon of bottled water — they could reinvest those revenues in community water systems to upgrade, expand and operate the best water purification and treatment systems that technology and money can buy. Old distribution systems can be upgraded and replaced, including old connections that leach lead and other contaminants into otherwise safe water. People like to complain about their utility rates. But most of us pay far, far less for our water than we do for electricity, cellphones, Internet service or cable television, and experience shows that when customers have confidence in the services they are getting, they are willing to pay for them.
Are you willing to pay more than you currently are for your tap water?
Make sure to check out the full Washington Post article. And stay up to date on all regional water news by signing up for our e-mail updates on RenewLV’s Join Us page. (For more information on regional water issues, make sure to visit RenewLV’s Regional Water Initiative page.)
Last night (June 10), the Lehigh County Authority (LCA) held its first community forum to discuss the future of wastewater capacity within central and western Lehigh County. On the forum’s website, LCA sums up why there is a need for more capacity:
The wastewater treatment plant owned and operated by the City of Allentown has no additional capacity available to allocate for future needs. That is, the plant can treat up to 40 million gallons of wastewater a day, on average, and all of that capacity has already been sold to the municipalities served by the plant, or is held by Allentown for its needs. Based on economic growth projections for this region, additional capacity will be required in 3 to 5 years to meet the needs of existing and future customers.
Judging by the strong attendance at last night’s forum, this issue is attracting stakeholders from diverse backgrounds: members of environmental/watershed groups, engineers, and municipal and county officials, among others. LCA hopes to bring together these stakeholders to discuss the available options for increasing capacity, which range from expanding the current facility at Kline’s Island to upgrading a pre-treatment plant in Fogelsville to full treatment.
Following LCA’s presentation of its options, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski gave a very informative overview of options for expanding the Kline’s Island plant that have the potential of lowering costs for the project.
Deana Zosky, RenewLV’s co-chair, talked with reporter Sarah Fulton yesterday (covering for the Morning Call) and stated that it will be important to closely examine the impact of each option on planning in the Lehigh Valley (in particular, the effects on the growth of the region).
In regard to the effect of this decision on planning and growth in the Lehigh Valley, it will be crucial to keep in mind the long-term (as well as short-term) costs associated with each option. While some of the options may seem less expensive at this time, I wonder about their implications for future costs (associated, for example, with new infrastructure being built to accommodate developments in outlying areas). At this time, it is unknown what these future costs might look like, but, hopefully, the steering committee will examine this matter in more detail.
For more information on RenewLV’s work on water and wastewater issues within the region, visit our Regional Water Initiative page.
The Morning Call is running a series on the Lehigh River, recounting its history and the efforts toward watershed protection. Many in the Lehigh Valley consider the river to be a distinct part of their childhood. It seems that spending time by the Lehigh River was a common activity in the region. But it wasn’t always the safest river to play in — that is, until local activists got involved.
The Call reports:
It was just about 40 years ago, around the time of the first Earth Day, that environmental concerns translated into action across the country and along the Lehigh. Government and public activism, the demise of heavy industry and natural cleansing began undoing decades of abuse, and the Valley’s most significant natural resource underwent a remarkable turnaround.
Today, the Lehigh River is healthier than it’s been in any living person’s memory. Bald eagles, osprey and herons now populate its banks. Trout, bass, muskellunge and the bugs on which they feed can be found in abundance. Canoeists, kayakers and rafters routinely ply the waters.
The article also touches upon the much-debated issue of drilling for Marcellus Shale in the Commonwealth.
Proposals to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation around the Lehigh’s headwaters in Wayne County also present a serious challenge to the river. The extraction process uses huge amounts of water, and in places where wells already have been drilled, waterways have been seriously degraded.
”I never thought we’d have [a threat] up there,” said Lehigh River Stocking Association President Matt MacConnell.
But the Lehigh now has many eyes watching out for its welfare. MacConnell’s organization has a water quality monitor that provides real-time data posted on the Internet. The conservancy works with an alphabet soup of state and federal agencies to protect the watershed. Water-dependent commercial businesses and environmental groups hold the Army corps accountable for long-term water flow, which is important for fishing, rafting and the river’s overall health.
Do you have fond memories of the Lehigh River? If so, share them below.