Utah’s 2nd Congressional District serves Salt Lake City and the largely rural western and southern portions of the State, and is represented by House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee member Chris Stewart.
Salt Lake City has experienced its share of the problems that the State’s antiquated water infrastructure has caused in communities all over Utah. The roughly 1,300 miles of piping under Salt Lake City is some of the oldest in the State; as a result, there are about 350 water main breaks on average in the city each year. These breaks have caused untold damage and disruption to residences and businesses. Roads, schools and offices have been closed, and flooding and water service disruptions have become increasingly common in recent years. We reported on the rupture of a large water main on Main Street in Salt Lake City last year; the break sent thousands of gallons of water rushing like a river down the thoroughfare, forcing the closure of Main Street for the day. Representatives of the Salt Lake City Public Works Department attributed the break to aging infrastructure – the line that burst under Main Street was nearly 100 years old.
According to the 2015 Report Card for Utah’s Infrastructure, a significant portion of Utah’s water infrastructure is approaching the end of its intended life. Much of it was built shortly after World War II as Utah suburbs expanded, and some of it is even older. The State’s buried water and sewer lines are showing signs of tremendous strain, with leaking and broken pipes becoming increasingly widespread. The report card estimates that roughly 200,000 Utah homes were provided with subsurface water and sewer services before 1965; these systems are now 50 years old or older. Including commercial and industrial users, it is estimated that Utah has nearly $2 billion worth of subsurface water lines that should be scheduled for replacement in the very short term. Given the State’s projected population growth (Utah’s population has tripled since the 1970s and is projected to double by 2050), the public health threat posed by these damaged lines, which can result in water supply contamination, is significant.
Utah’s wastewater treatment is of particular concern, as a large number of the State’s municipal wastewater treatment plants are approaching or have exceeded their expected 30-year useful and efficient operating life. There is significant deterioration of sewage collection systems that are 60-70 years old and well beyond their expected useful life. Wastewater agencies have not had the funds to keep up with repair and replacement let alone account for changing regulations and population growth. Aging infrastructure has over time translated into declining water quality.
In an attempt to prepare for future water use demands, Utah legislators have considered a variety of ways to fund critically needed water projects, including what is known as the Lake Powell Pipeline, which would send water 140 miles from the Colorado River to the State’s southwest corner, at a cost of more than $1 billion. But apparently little progress has been made identifying sources of such funding, and residents are deeply concerned about the State’s aging infrastructure and future water supply.
Utah’s water infrastructure is in dire need of modernization, and the State can only address that need with Federal assistance. Congressman Stewart has an obligation to his constituents and to residents throughout Utah to push for Federal funds, including increased State Revolving Fund appropriations, to upgrade, renew and replace the State’s aging water systems. Especially in light of the State’s rapidly growing population, Federal funds must materialize for Utah now.