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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

National Water Infrastructure Forum, Washington, D.C.

01/31/2003
Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman,

Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,

to the

National Water Infrastructure Forum

Washington, D.C.

January 31, 2003


Thank you, Tracy (Mehan), for that introduction and for convening this forum. I hope this meeting will provide the opportunity to explore B and perhaps even begin to solve B some of the challenges posed by America = s aging water infrastructure.

About 2,300 years ago, the Roman Empire began construction of its amazing aqueduct system. By the time the system was completed B some five hundred years later B Rome = s 260 miles of water infrastructure were capable of delivering 85 million gallons of water a day to the one million citizens of the ancient city.

Yet, within about 100 years of the creation of this engineering marvel of the ancient world, Rome= s ability to maintain its water infrastructure began to erode. The aqueduct system fell into disrepair, and eventually people who once had their water piped right into their homes had to dig wells and haul water from nearby rivers and lakes.

The decline of Rome= s water infrastructure and the fall of its Empire followed parallel tracks. For a whole host of reasons, that = s history we do not want to repeat B and we won = t.

A safe, affordable, and abundant supply of drinking water is something we take for granted in America. We turn on the tap, and we don = t have to worry whether what comes out will make us or our families sick. But there= s no doubt that America = s water infrastructure faces some critical needs in the years ahead.

The full dimension of those needs is outlined in the Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Gap Analysis EPA released last fall. Our report takes a good, hard look at what America = s water infrastructure needs will be through the year 2019.

This report looks at infrastructure in the broad sense B everything it takes to deliver clean, safe water to America = s homes and businesses and then remove and treat the waste water that results. From the water intake valve to the tap, from the kitchen sink drain to the outflow at the treatment plant, we looked at the entire picture.

As you know, the funding gap we identified from now through 2019 is significant. Assuming no growth in revenues, the total needed for clean water B in both capital and operations and maintenance B exceeds $270 billion. For drinking water, the gap approaches $265 billion.

The size of the projected gap can be reduced substantially if we project real growth in revenues over the same period. Assuming a 3 percent annual real growth in revenues, for example, the gap shrinks by nearly 90 percent on the clean water side and by about 80 percent on the drinking water side.

The actual gap may end up somewhere in between these numbers B and there are an enormous number of considerations that will go into determining exactly how big the gap will be over time. But what = s important now is that we begin the discussion of how to close the gap with a better understanding of what the dimensions of the challenge really are.

As I said when I announced this Forum last September in Chicago, the purpose of the forum is not simply to ask for more money from Washington. Instead, we = ve convened this meeting to give all the interested parties the opportunity to discuss how best to close the gap.

One thing is clear B the challenge we face is clearly beyond the ability of any one entity to address. It will require the participation and contribution of government at all levels, utilities, and users.

There = s no doubt that this Administration is committed to doing its part. We will continue to ensure the State Revolving Funds are robust and up to the job.

After all, history has shown the SRFs to be the most effective tool we have to support your work. To date, the federal government has provided more than $19.7 billion in capitalization funding to states for the Clean Water SRFs and $3.6 billion for the Drinking Water SRFs.

Because of the revolving nature of these funds, each federal dollar invested leverages considerably more loans and assistance than would a traditional grant program. In fact, for every federal dollar invested in the SRFs, we see a return on investment of $1.90. In addition, the SRF program gives the states flexibility to direct money to where it is most needed.

The Bush Administration is committed to ensuring that the federal government does its fair share, and I know Congress is also considering various methods to address the situation. Of course, states, municipalities, and utilities will also need to do their part. Given the gap, we estimate that utilities will have to increase their own investment at an annual real rate of growth of 3 percent.

Of course, money alone is not the answer. We need to tap into the creative, innovative thinking of the water community to find less costly and more efficient ways to narrow the gap. Only by embracing innovations that have been resisted by some in the past can we make the progress we need.

Adopting new, innovative management practices is one way to help ensure the resources are available to meet our future infrastructure needs. Such practices include taking an asset management approach, forging a new public-private partnership, consolidating ownership or management, or starting an Environmental Management System.

Another area of innovation that holds promise is reaching across existing local political boundaries to promote intergovernmental cooperation across entire watersheds. There are 168,000 public drinking water systems in the United States and 16,000 waste water utilities. EPA will continue to encourage utilities to consider ways to work together to achieve economies of scale or to ensure that they are working together to promote the health of the watershed they share.

The innovations we need should also include efforts to promote conservation and smart water use, not just by the user, but by the utility as well. A faucet in someone= s home that leaks just a drop every three seconds wastes more than 1,000 gallons of water a year. But a leaky water delivery system can waste billions of gallons of water annually.

In the Detroit area, for example, it is estimated that every year more than 35 billion gallons of clean, fresh water leaks from water delivery pipes before it ever reaches the consumer. That = s enough water to fill Yankee Stadium to overflowing more than 130 times. And while that probably wouldn= t bother Tiger fans B or this Mets fan B if it would keep the Yankees out of the playoffs, there = s got to be a better way.

When we come down to it, that = s why we = re here today, to begin to find the better way to close the water infrastructure gap, not just through a flood of money, but through a tidal wave of good, creative ideas.

Th great Roman poet, Horace, who enjoyed the water brought to his city by the aqueducts I spoke of earlier, said, A To have begun is half the job: be bold and be sensible. @ That would be my charge to you. We have begun the job of addressing the infrastructure gap by defining it. Now is the time to be both bold and sensible in tackling the next half of the job that confronts us.

I look forward to learning from Tracy the results of this forum. And while neither Rome B nor its water infrastructure was built in a day B I believe today = s efforts will help ensure that here in the United States, we will continue to provide all our people with a clean, safe water system that is the envy of the world B both ancient and modern B for many decades to come.

Thank you.