Recently, President Obama signed legislation providing $50.7 billion in Hurricane Sandy emergency aid to affected states. This funding includes $600 million to ensure water and wastewater systems are protected and able to continue operation during extreme whether events. This is the first time Congress has approved funding to ensure the resiliency of water systems in the United States.
For too long, our Nation has ignored the growing needs of our water infrastructure. We’ve chronically underinvested in upgrades, overhauls, and basic maintenance of these systems—some of which are hundreds of years old in our oldest cities, including New York City. It took an event like Hurricane Sandy, unfortunately, to expose just how dire the situation has become in some areas of the country. For years, the clean water community has warned of a $500 billion shortfall over the next 20 years in funding for water infrastructure. Hurricane Sandy demonstrates that it is time for all of us to start listening.
Although the $600 million is a step in the right direction, it may not be enough. Many large wastewater agencies were affected by Hurricane Sandy, particularly in the New York-New Jersey area. A quick survey of our members provides a snapshot of the scope of the efforts:
Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners (N.J.). The facility was severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy, with extreme flooding and power loss that forced flow to be bypassed into the river due to the inability to pump through the treatment plant. Estimated costs to restore the facility to pre-storm status: $250-$300 million.
Middlesex County Utilities Authority (N.J.). The storm severely damaged and flooded three pumping stations. Power was lost and emergency generators failed due to high water. Today, two pumping stations are operational and the third is still damaged. Short-term repairs to rehabilitate equipment will cost $32 million, with an additional $355 million in longer term repairs like additional flood protection needed.
Ocean County Utilities Authority (N.J.). The facility experienced flooding at pumping stations and extensive power failures. Largest problem became getting fuel oil to all locations. Still evaluating the condition of certain assets but estimate the total cost of damage will not exceed $5 million.
Bayshore Regional Authority (N.J.). All 24 acres of the facility were flooded with 3 to 4 feet of water. Both sludge incinerators were severely damaged and rendered nonoperational. Estimated costs are $10 million for emergency response. More will be needed to raise buildings and control centers currently located in basements. Exact costs have yet to be calculated.
Essex and Union Counties (N.J.). The storm surge inundated a basement laboratory building so all the equipment—compressors, hot water heater, electrical infrastructure supplying power to building—was lost. Other facilities and the electrical transformers need replacing. Developing plans now for measures to mitigate future disasters, for a total of $1.1 million.
Stony Brook Regional Sewerage Authority (N.Y.). Wind, falling trees, and power outages. All three treatment plants and three regional pump stations lost power for several days. Estimated costs include $20-30,000 for tree removal.
New York City Department of Environmental Protection. Experienced sewer overflows, power outages, pump failures, and flooding. The anticipated cost of repair will be approximately $100 million.
Suffolk County Department of Public Works. Hurricane Sandy submerged two pump stations and the emergency generators. An access road was partially washed-out and an outfall pipe was clogged from sand backwash. Repairs to roofs, fences, and windows are also needed.
The bottom line is that our Nation's rivers, lakes and streams will face irreparable harm if we fail to continue to invest. With climate change causing more frequent and more severe wet weather events, the situation in New York and New Jersey is unlikely be an isolated event but a harbinger of what is to come. To continue to provide clean, safe water and to protect the environment, we need to ensure greater federal investment in our water infrastructure.