Idaho’s 2nd District, in the eastern portion of the State and covering most of Boise, is represented by House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee Vice Chair Mike Simpson. This area suffers from the water infrastructure problems common throughout Western States; funding is critically needed to inspect, repair and replace aging distribution lines, wastewater systems, and dams.
Boise utilities face the problems common to municipal operators all over the country: an aging pipe network that experiences leaks, low pressure, and frequent collapses. According to a recent EPA survey, Boise is one of 32 cities in which “severe” levels of pipe corrosion was observed. As a result, age-related water main breaks are commonplace. Several weeks ago, for example, multiple businesses in an area of 17th Street west of Jennie Lee Drive were affected by a main break, and traffic was reduced to one lane during repairs. We previously reported on the flooding of a Boise intersection near the Darigold plant due to a main break, forcing the closure of North Allumbaugh and Fairmont streets because of several inches of standing water on the roads. Another water main break occurred at the intersection of 16th and Main Streets in downtown Boise and the intersection had to be closed to westbound traffic for two days. In Twin Falls, Harrison Elementary School had to close due to an 8-inch water line break in front of the school. Police had to re-route traffic using Polk Street for close to four hours, and residents were asked to boil water before drinking while contamination tests were conducted.
In the most recently released report card for Idaho’s infrastructure, the Southern Idaho Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) reported that the vast majority of Idaho’s infrastructure lacks proper maintenance funding and is poorly equipped to deal with the increasing demands it faces as the state continues to grow; funding for water and wastewater systems was found to be inadequate to meet future capacity and funding needs. As a result, utilities have been forced to raise rates for consumers. Last May, for example, United Water Idaho, the largest water provider in Idaho, asked the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to approve a base rate increase of approximately $5.88 million to recover costs associated with capital investments and increased operating expenses, raising rates for both residential and commercial users.
Dam operation is in particularly dire need of funding. The ASCE report pointed out that the total budget for Idaho’s dam safety program has been dramatically reduced in recent years, an alarming fact given that the average dam in the State is more than 50 years old. “With the aging infrastructure, funding and future need becomes increasingly critical,” the report states. “As Idaho’s dams continue to age, the need for infrastructure repairs and replacement is expected to grow…As a result of reduced funding and personnel resources, the current level of state compliance will not be able to be maintained.”
Idaho needs federal funds to help modernize its drinking water and wastewater systems and to improve the safety of its dams. Congressman Simpson has the responsibility to use his leadership position on the Interior and Environment Subcommittee to push for these funds, including increased State Revolving Fund appropriations, for his constituents in the 2nd District and for all residents of Idaho.