EPA Chief Sounds Alarm on Water for U.S., World

From: Robina Suwol
Date: 30 Mar 2002
Time: 10:57:12
Remote Name:


Date: 020328
From: http://www.chicagotribune.com/  

By Michael Kilian, 
Washington Bureau, March 28, 2002 

Washington - Threats to water quality and quantity pose the greatest environmental challenge to the United States, in large part because of climate change and antiquated and deteriorating water systems, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman warned Wednesday.

 She said New York and other major cities are distributing water through pipes more than a century old. 

Addressing reporters at a breakfast meeting, Whitman said she has asked for congressional hearings this spring to help determine the extent of the water shortage and pollution-control problems and the cost of solving them. 

"Water is going to be the biggest environmental issue that we face in the 21st Century, in terms of both quantity and quality," she said. "Look [at drought problems] around the United States and around the world. Look at the Mideast, where there's a severe drought going on. Clean water is a major problem in Afghanistan. We have a million children dying every year from waterborne diseases that are entirely preventable." 

Whitman also urged Congress to replace the federal government's controversial new source review policy for controlling power plant pollution with a program called Clear Skies that President Bush has proposed. 

The EPA chief said the president believes global warming presents a problem but is uncertain how to focus the government's resources for dealing with it. 

Several studies over the last year support Whitman's concern about water. 

The most recent report, released last month by the Harvard University School of Public Health, found that although water is relatively abundant in the U.S., "current trends are sufficient to strain water resources over time, especially on a regional basis." 

The study cited as contributing factors the deterioration of public water infrastructure such as pipes, as well as global climate effects, waterborne disease, land use, groundwater and surface water contamination, and ineffective government regulations. 

"U.S. public drinking water supplies will face challenges in these areas in the next century and . . . solutions to at least some of them will require institutional changes," the report said. 

At least $151 billion needs to be spent over the next 20 years to guarantee the continued high quality of U.S. water, the report said. 

The Water Infrastructure Network, a national coalition of local government officials, water and water treatment utilities, health administrators, engineers, and environmentalists, reported similar findings last year, putting the total cost of solving the problem at $1 trillion. 

The coalition's study said that an additional $23 billion a year must be spent on the nation's 54,000 community water systems to meet all the requirements of the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act and to replace aging and failing pipes and other infrastructure. 

The federal government now spends about $3 billion a year on water resources and wastewater treatment, the group's report said. 

Whitman emphasized that estimates of the costs of meeting American's future water needs did not include protecting water systems against contamination by terrorists. 

"That's just for leaky infrastructure," she said. "They're leaking. Sewer and septic systems are a problem. Clearly those dollar figures are way beyond the ability of any single entity to address. The federal government can't do it. The state governments can't do it. The municipal governments can't do it. The utilities can't do it. It's going to be an enormous [dollar] number." 

The new source review is a government regulatory program requiring power companies to upgrade pollution-control equipment when they expand existing plants. The federal government has filed suit against 51 power plants that it charges are evading the new requirements. 

Whitman complained that the source regulatory scheme involves the government in every step of a power company's implementation of new pollution controls and is counterproductive. 

She called instead for adoption of Bush's Clear Skies program, which would simply set limits for power plant pollution emissions and leave it to the power companies to comply as they see fit. 

"What `Clear Skies' does is set the cap," she said. "It doesn't go and tell the utilities, `You have to do this here and this there and that there at your facility.' You get there however you want." 

She said Bush's program would result in 25 million tons fewer sulfur dioxide emissions than the Clean Air Act regulations would over 10 years. 

"There would be a 10 million-ton better reduction in nitrous oxide emissions over 10 years and 20 million tons less of mercury over six years," she said. 

Whitman denied environmentalist complaints that Bush is doing nothing about global warming. 

"What the president has done is say, `Look, we have a problem here. We all know that something exists. We don't have all the science that will tell you exactly what needs to be done. We need to know where to focus our resources to make the kind of decisions we need to make. We need more science.'" 

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Copyright (c) 2002, Chicago Tribune

Last changed: May 16, 2007