EPA sees wastewater infrastructure investment needs north of $50 billion/year

Sources: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; CP staff

A survey of current or target projects Environmental Protection Agency conducted with states and territories finds that $271 billion is needed over the next five years to maintain and improve the nation’s wastewater infrastructure. Investment areas include the pipes that carry wastewater to treatment plants, water treatment technology, and stormwater runoff management.

The agency factored each project’s water quality-related public health problem, site-specific solution, and detailed cost information. EPA breaks down investment requirements by conveyance and treatment facilities:

  • $52.4 billion to meet secondary treatment standards. Secondary treatment uses biological processes to meet the minimum level of treatment required by law.
  • $49.6 billion for advanced wastewater treatment, where plants attain a level for effluent more protective than secondary treatment. Advanced treatment may also address nonconventional or toxic pollutants such as nitrogen, phosphorus, ammonia or metals.
  • $51.2 billion to rehabilitate and repair conveyance systems.
  • $44.5 billion to install new sewer collection systems, interceptor sewers and pumping stations.
  • $48 billion for combined sewer overflow correction to prevent periodic discharges of mixed stormwater and untreated wastewater during wet-weather events.
  • $19.2 billion to plan and implement structural and nonstructural measures to control polluted runoff from storm events.
  • $6.1 billion for conveyance and further treatment of wastewater for reuse.

“The only way to have clean and reliable water is to have infrastructure that is up to the task,” says EPA Acting Deputy Administrator for Water Joel Beauvais. “Our nation has made tremendous progress in modernizing treatment plants and pipes in recent decades, but this survey tells us a great deal of work remains.”

Adequate wastewater infrastructure plays a vital role in the health of streams, rivers, and lakes, where discharged wastewater and stormwater runoff often end up, agency officials contend. Wastewater infrastructure must also become more resilient in the face of sea level rise, stronger and more frequent storms, flooding, and drought, they add, noting how system improvements also support healthy economies—especially indicated in good-paying construction jobs.