News Feature | October 10, 2014

Water Bills May Double To Pay For Infrastructure In St. Louis

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Water bills may double in the coming decades to cover soaring infrastructure costs.

That's just one of the ominous findings in new report released by water utilities in the St. Louis area.

The Metro Water Infrastructure Partnership, which released the report, includes Illinois American Water Company, City of Kirkwood Water Department, Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, Missouri American Water Company and the City of St. Louis Water Division. The consulting firm Camp Dresser & McKee Inc. (CDM) was commissioned to provide the report.

The report shows that the amount of money needed for infrastructure updates is staggering.

"Based on miles of existing water mains in the bi-state St. Louis region and needed additional replacement rates, CDM estimates a $680 million total gap for drinking water main replacement alone," the report said.

"An estimated $4.7 billion is needed for wastewater system improvements over the next 20 to 30 years. In the case of wastewater this includes infrastructure replacement as well as upgrades at treatment plants to meet increased environmental standards. Current levels of investment will need to increase to meet this need for infrastructure replacement," it continued.

Rates may need to go up significantly to help cover infrastructure costs. "The report says the necessary expenditures to upgrade a century-old pipeline system could cause water bills to double over the next couple of decades. The investment is expected to come to at least $34 million per year," CBS St. Louis reported.

The report showed that much of the region's infrastructure is already past its prime. "Pumping stations are intended to last for 25 years. On average, stations in the St. Louis area are 35 years old," St. Louis Public Radio reported. "The age of regional distribution mains are built to last 60 to 95 years. The average age of the region's distribution mains ranges from 55 to 65 years, on average."

The region is falling behind when it comes to water main replacement. "The St. Louis region replaces about 0.4 to 0.7 percent of water mains every year. General industry standards suggest a replacement pace of 1 percent annually. But reaching that pace would require an additional $34 million a year, or $62 per consumer," the public radio report said.

Missouri American Water president Frank Kartmann said his utility is already contending with the effects of aging infrastructure.

"Areas where pipes are 60 to 100 or 120 years old are where we find the most of our main break activity. It’s just because they’re wearing out, they’ve been in place the longest,” he said, per the radio piece.