Urban Fold

Aging Wastewater Systems Threatening Water Supplies

Aging sewage systems in municipalities across the country are falling into disrepair, resulting in massive leaks and spills that threaten drinking water and public health.

"America's aging sewer systems continue to dump human waste into rivers and streams, despite years of fines and penalties targeting publicly owned agencies responsible for sewage overflows, a Gannett News Service analysis shows.

The analysis of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data found that since 2003, hundreds of municipal sewer authorities have been fined for violations, including spills that make people sick, threaten local drinking water and kill aquatic animals and plants.

Local governments across the USA plan to spend billions modernizing failing wastewater systems - some of which are more than 100 years old - over the next 10 to 20 years, EPA, state and local sewer authority officials said.

Those improvement efforts face a huge challenge mitigating problems in what the EPA estimates to be 1.2 million miles of sewers snaking underground across the USA.

An EPA 2004 report to Congress estimated that 850 billion gallons of storm water mixed with raw sewage pour into U.S. waters every year from older, combined sewer systems that were designed to overflow in wet weather. These combined systems, built by cities in the 19th and early 20th centuries, are now considered antiquated and a threat to public health and the environment, according to the EPA and environmental groups.

An additional 3 billion to 10 billion gallons of raw sewage spill accidentally every year from systems designed to carry only sewage, according to the 2004 report. Causes of these spills include improper connections, clogs from debris, construction accidents and cracks in aging pipes.

The EPA estimates that as many as 5,500 people get sick every year from direct exposure to sewer overflows near beaches."

Full Story: Aging systems releasing sewage into rivers, streams


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