EPA estimates billions in Ariz. water infrastructure upgrades

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The nation's drinking water system is overflowing with aging treatment plants and pipes. A report from the Environmental Protection Agency says it needs nearly $400 billion in repairs. That includes more than $200 billion to fix or replace pipes, $70 billion to construct or replace treatment plants, and nearly $40 billion to fix storage facilities.

Arizona's share of this is more than $7 billion dollars. Tucson Water manages four thousand miles of pipes, some are one hundred years old, others are many decades. Phoenix has old pipes, too but Tucson Water spokesman Fernando Molina says Phoenix is overall more developed, and more recently developed, so many of the pipes and other infrastructure are newer.

Unless a problem arises, many of us go about our business without realizing all that is going on beneath our streets. Some water main breaks that we have seen in the city are caused by contractor errors, but others can be caused by aging infrastructure and that's why Molina says upkeep is important.

"Those are other costs that people don't realize," Molina said. "If we don't take care of this and we start having lots of leaks, we have to have road closures and traffic detours, that's another cost. It's not necessarily the cost of the water bill but it's costing people time, maybe more gasoline because they have to drive around through a detour."

The majority of Tucson Water's capital budget goes toward maintaining aging infrastructure, but there are $122 million in projects that need to be done, but the money simply isn't there.

Seventy-five percent of the capital budget goes toward the distribution system as of three years ago, Molina said. Upgrades are prioritized based on things like the age of the pipes and how often problems are caused in a certain area. The unmet needs will eventually be met, Molina says, but it could take longer.

"We have a way to prioritize which projects get put into the queue for having this work done. If one of those projects, maybe things get a bit worse than they have been in the last five years, we may change the priority and move it up a bit sooner," Molina said. "We do have a lot of flexibility in how we approach those unfunded needs."

Fernando says Tucson Water tries to maintain a balance between keeping up with the aging infrastructure and making sure rate increases are not astronomical for customers.

To see the full EPA study, visit the following link:

Click the following link for more on the Citizens' Water Advisory Committee:

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