For the last couple of weeks of 2015 we are highlighting the water infrastructure issues faced by local communities in a variety of states; we think these state stories vividly illustrate the challenges that localities all over the United States are confronting in an era of aging infrastructure and declining federal assistance, and how some state and local governments are working to address them.
Community water systems throughout the state of New Mexico have struggled over the last several years as the state has suffered through a historically severe drought. Officials in localities across the state have sought help from the state government to avert a crisis, as water levels have dropped, aging infrastructure has been taxed and federal funding has grown more scarce. In 2013 the state identified nearly 300 drinking water systems considered particularly vulnerable; as drought conditions put pressure on supply, small communities in particular see their water systems fail, threatening the health, security and economies of those communities.
In response, Governor Susana Martinez recently proposed a $112 million capital investment in New Mexico’s water infrastructure, amounting to approximately 60 percent of the capital outlay funding that will be available when the New Mexico Legislature convenes in January. Governor Martinez’s proposal prioritizes water investments in communities that are in danger of going dry, or are struggling with poor water quality, as well as water projects such as watershed and dam rehabilitation.
“Unprecedented drought, wildfires, and floods have put further stress on New Mexico’s aging water infrastructure, in communities large and small across the state. We have seen communities run out of water and our watersheds terribly damaged, and the threat of water shortage looms for many other communities across New Mexico,” said Governor Martinez in proposing the investment. Governor Martinez pledged to work with local governments, state agencies, legislators, and others to identify critical water infrastructure projects throughout the state. The New Mexico Drought Task Force is also working to identify communities with the most pressing water quantity and quality needs.
Matthew Holmes of the New Mexico Rural Water Association praised Governor Martinez’s proposal, saying, “Governor Martinez’s proposal is exactly what New Mexico needs to address both current and future water shortages and infrastructure problems. Communities across our state are running dangerously close to exhausting water supplies; dams, pipes, wells, and other infrastructure are in disrepair or dangerously obsolete. These funds are crucial to protecting our state’s water supply and providing the basic security our families, communities, and businesses so desperately need.”
The State of Arizona faces a critical need to replace and rehabilitate wastewater facilities that are nearing or past the end of their expected useful life. Although a relatively young state, many portions of Arizona’s wastewater systems are 50 years old or more. In particular, pipelines in the state’s wastewater collection systems are deteriorating due to age and to corrosion caused by hydrogen sulfide, a particular problem in Arizona given the state’s warm climate. The past decade has seen a large number of sewer collapses or breaks due to structural failure of the pipes themselves, which in some cases have been completely eaten away by corrosion. Many of the largest sewers in the metropolitan Phoenix and Tucson areas were constructed as early as the 1950s. According to a recent “report card” issued by the America Society of Civil Engineers, a major failure of one of these pipelines could disrupt wastewater service to tens of thousands of Arizona residents.
The repair and reinforcement of these facilities will require more funding than the state’s utilities have at their disposal. Especially in smaller communities, financial resources are simply not available to repair and replace deteriorating wastewater collection systems. The revenues and budgets of many local utilities throughout the state declined dramatically during the 2008 economic downturn, and as a result many were forced to put off critically needed maintenance on their systems.
Recent funding initiatives represent attempts to address this critical funding need. The state’s Water Infrastructure Finance Authority recently announced, for example, a $14 million loan for the city of Peoria to improve water pressure and provide a more sustainable water system for residents. With the loan proceeds, Peoria will be able to begin a series of upgrades to its water system, which serves approximately 11,000 people, improving water pressure and system reliability. And last week WIFA announced a loan for the Clear Springs Utility Company, which will use the money to make needed repairs to its deteriorating water system. Clear Springs Utility Company, a privately-owned water company located in Cochise County, serves approximately 1,200 people near Pearce, Arizona.
We at CWC are pleased to report on these state funding initiatives and applaud the New Mexico and Arizona officials who recognize the need to devote resources to protecting public health and environmental quality through financial assistance for water and wastewater infrastructure. We wish the Federal government would do more along these lines, and we will keep pushing to heighten awareness and action at the Federal level.