Congress Needs to Step up Funding for Sewage Crisis, Report Says

The Healing Our Waters Campaign is calling on Congress to increase their investment in wastewater infrastructure in an effort to restore the Great Lakes and create tens of thousands of jobs in our region. This afternoon in five historic Great Lakes cities HOW released a report: Turning the Tide: Invest in Wastewater Infrastructure to Create Jobs and Solve the Sewage Crisis in the Great Lakes.

Nearly 200 communities on the US side of the lakes have antiquated combined sewer systems (CSO) that when overloaded from rain or snow untreated sewage is sent into our lakes…and our drinking water. This forces beaches to close, puts public health in danger, harms wildlife and hurts tourism. Eliminating our sewage problem is key to restoring health to the Great Lakes. The report emphasizes a two part solution that would help cities separate miles of combined sewer pipes (historically called gray infrastructure) while building up natural sources of storm water absorption such as green roofs, rain gardens and installing pervious pavement (recently termed green infrastructure).

The States in the Great Lakes Basin need at least $23.3 billion to fix the CSO problems and for a cash strapped region that is, well, too much to ask! Adding to the cost, in recent years the Federal Government has actually reduced the amount of money available on loan to the states and cities for this work. The Clean Water State Revolving Fund – a low-interest loan scheme for sewer upgrades – declined from $1.35 billion in 1998 to $689 million in 2008. And although Congress did inject more money into sewer infrastructure last year in the American Recovering and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – it still falls far short of the need. The report highlights five cities – Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Gary, Ind. And Milwaukee – and it examines how these cities are facing this infrastructure challenge.

HOW is asking Congress to provide at least $2.7 billion in low interest loans this year with $972 million set aside for Great Lakes states and 20 percent prioritized for green infrastructure projects. “Eliminating combined sewage overflows needs to be an essential part of the effort to restore the Great Lakes and revive the economy,” states the report. By doing nothing and allowing the status quo to continue any other effort we make to return the Great Lakes to a healthy state of being will be slowed down. Besides, such an investment creates jobs. According to the Water Infrastructure Network for every $1 billion invested in wastewater infrastructure up to 26,669 jobs are created. So what is left to think about? This is a win-win investment that should not be delayed.

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