By Peter Chawaga
Speaking to one of the greatest drinking water system challenges of our time, the president of the Water Environment Federation (WEF), Lynn Broaddus, offered encouragement as well as a realistic sense of just how daunting lead service line replacement can be for communities across the country.
“The legacy of lead service lines is concerning in any community, but they are particularly troublesome in communities with declining populations and an insufficient rate-base to cover the costs of running a professional water treatment system,” Broaddus told Great Lakes Now in a recent interview. “Those are the big problems, the ticking time bombs.”
WEF is a not-for-profit educational organization representing water quality professionals from around the world, and in speaking on this fundamental infrastructure problem, Broaddus underscored failings that have caused contamination across the U.S., from Michigan to MIssissippi.
And while this issue is gaining federal attention, most notably through billions of dollars earmarked for water systems in the Biden administration’s recent infrastructure bill, concerns remain around how systems in need will be able to access that funding. For her part, Broaddus framed the fundamental solutions as lying with state leadership and its power to help utilities secure needed funding.
“States do have a responsibility,” she said. “Particularly they have a responsibility if you go upstream from the actual problem to the financial security of the utility. That’s where we can get sustainable traction.”
Broaddus also spoke to other major issues plaguing water systems across the country, including the spread of PFAS in drinking water and nutrient contamination from agricultural operations. But she appeared most passionate when asked about challenges that ratepayers face in affording fundamental drinking water and wastewater services.
“Certainly, there has been a lot of thought put into affordability, how to structure rates to protect those least able to pay, where to get the federal government to help level the playing field,” Broaddus said. “But we also need to look at the costs that underlie those rates… What else can we do to control costs?”
To read more about how drinking water and wastewater utilities allocate their resources, visit Water Online’s Asset Management Solutions Center.