News Feature | May 1, 2014

Are Water Utilities Eligible For Disaster Relief Funding After Harsh Winter?

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

leakypipereg

The condition of water infrastructure in parts of the U.S. is nothing short of disastrous.

So, does it follow that water utilities should be able to apply for federal disaster relief funding? Wisconsin officials are exploring the possibility, arguing that the harsh winter may make utilities eligible.

Wisconsin Emergency Management is investigating the possibility, the Journal Times reported. The state agency received complaints this year about damage to water mains and pumps.

"Interested in seeing if the damage was enough to place the state in a position for 'federal disaster declaration for public sector entities,' [Wisconsin Emergency Management] asked county emergency management offices to reach out to water utilities to see just how much of a financial blow the arctic weather dealt the entities," the report said. 

Utility operators emphasize how tough this winter was. 

"We're at 119 percent over last year's expenses," said Doug Fischer of South Milwaukee Water Works, in a WISN report. "We budget for main breaks, but we don't budget for that many."

The emergency management agency will tally up the data from utilities.  

"We're going to see how much damage there was," Tod Pritchard, an official at the agency, told WISN. "We'll see if it reaches the level of asking for a federal disaster declaration."

It is still unclear whether utilities will qualify. 

"In order to even pursue it, there has to be damage that amounts to about $8 million statewide or a $1.39 per capita,” Racine County Emergency Management Coordinator David Maack said in the Journal Times. “We’re just in the very, very preliminary steps of compiling information.” 

Some critics say it is pretty clear that U.S. water infrastructure is in disastrous condition. 

Last year, the EPA estimated that U.S. drinking water infrastructure will need $384 billion in investments by 2030 to ensure the continued delivery of safe drinking water. 

After the American Society of Civil Engineers released an infrastructure report card last year, Business Insider pulled out "10 Signs That US Infrastructure Is A Disaster." 

Sign No. 1: "There are 240,000 water main breaks in the U.S. each year, and many water mains and pipes are over 100 years old."

For more policy news, check out Water Online's Regulations & Legislation Solution Center

Image credit: "repair in progress," Panasonic DMC-LX3 © 2008, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en

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