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The investment to replace aging water and wastewater infrastructure is estimated to be more than $250 billion above current levels of spending in the next three decades, according to the American Water Works Association. Source: Ken Simonson, chief economist of the Associated General Contractors of America, using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Replacement and rehabilitation of the nation's aging drinking water infrastructure will dominate Washington water policy discussions in 2009 as the 111th Congress convenes.

President Obama has said that he would “invest in our nation's most pressing short- and long-term infrastructure needs, including modernizing our electrical grid and upgrading our highway, rail, ports, water, and aviation infrastructure.”

The proposed $400 to $700 billion financial recovery package is expected to include $1 billion for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. The House passed a similar package during the last session of Congress, but the companion Senate bill fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance out of Congress.

However, the new Congress likely will take up the bill again this time around, and the increased Democratic majority could determine whether or not the bill is passed. Expect another bill to be re-introduced in the next session, as well.

During the 110th Congress, Senate Environment and Public Works Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) introduced two bills: the Perchlorate Monitoring and Right to Know Act (S 24), which would require the U.S. EPA to resume testing of drinking water for perchlorate (used in rocket fuel and explosives), and the Protecting Pregnant Women and Children from Perchlorate Act (S 150), which would require the EPA to set a standard for perchlorate in drinking water. In October the EPA declined to set a standard regulating perchlorate in drinking water, but Boxer has indicated that the full Senate is likely to vote on the bills in the 111th session.

The recently released State of the Industry Report, published by the American Water Works Association (AWWA), indicated that source water and infrastructure replacement rank highest on the list of immediate concerns that water professionals have about their industry.

The report surveyed more than 1,800 water industry professionals in assessing the overall health of the industry and identifying key challenges. Many of the respondents stressed the need for effective water efficiency and conservation programs, with others indicating a growing interest in technologies such as water reuse and desalination.

A new factor playing into source water concerns is the presence of pharmaceutical compounds in drinking water supplies. The water industry is expected to spend considerable money and effort to understand the sources, possible treatment methods, and potential effects of these contaminants in the coming years, according to Tommy Holmes, AWWA's legislative director. The recent spotlight on pharmaceuticals in drinking water may result in new regulations as well.

The association estimates that nationwide at least $10 billion in drinking water infrastructure projects are ready to go.

The AWWA, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the National Association of Water Companies, and the National Rural Water Association collaborated on a briefing book for the Obama administration and for the new Congress. In the briefing, the associations are recommending federal assistance to utilities through long-term, low- or no-interest loans and tax incentives to upgrade their infrastructure. It also identifies grants as the appropriate financial assistance for communities with sanitary sewer overflow mandates.