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Water: Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey

Basic Information

The Safe Drinking Water Act requires that EPA conduct an assessment of the national public water system capital improvement needs every four years. The purpose of the survey is to document the 20-year capital investment needs of public water systems that are eligible to receive Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) monies — approximately 52,000 community water systems and 21,400 not-for-profit non-community water systems. The survey reports infrastructure needs that are required to protect public health, such as projects to ensure compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

The first report, released in 1999, reflected data collected in 1995. The total needs reported for the first survey was $138.4 billion (1995 dollars). The second report, released in 2001, reflected data collected in 1999 and indicated a total need of $150.9 billion (1999 dollars).

The third report, released in 2005, reflected data collected in 2003 and indicated a total need of  $276.8 billion (in 2003 dollars) - even when adjusted to constant dollars, a value much greater than the needs that had been reported in the previous two surveys.  The 2003 assessment was redesigned to more accurately capture needs that were under-reported in earlier assessments, particularly costs needed to address necessary rehabilitation and replacement of deteriorating infrastructure.

In 2007, EPA conducted its fourth Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey. The total needs reported in the fourth survey were $334.8 billion.  This most recent finding is comparable to that of the 2003 assessment, when adjusted to 2007 dollars, of $331.4 billion and indicates the continued success in better capturing previously underreported needs to address necessary rehabilitation and replacement of deteriorating infrastructure. These two assessments’ findings of a large magnitude of national needs reflect the challenges confronting water systems as they deal with an infrastructure network that has aged considerably since these systems were constructed; in many cases, 50 to 100 years ago.

Total 20-Year Need by Project Type (in billions of January 2007 dollars) Pie ChartWhile the 2007 and 2003 findings are similar at the national level, there are significant shifts in the reported relative needs amongst the states.  In large part, such shifts are due to normal fluctuations in the planning, initiation and completion of projects.  However, in addition, the 2003 assessment reflects greater flexibility provided to states and water systems in the new effort to better capture previously underreported needs associated with necessary rehabilitation and replacement of deteriorating infrastructure.  The 2007 assessment reflects a policy, designed in consensus with the states, to apply much more consistent methodologies for estimating infrastructure needs across all states and surveyed water systems.

In every assessment conducted to date, transmission and distribution projects have represented the largest category of need. This result is consistent with the fact that transmission and distribution mains account for most of the nation’s drinking water infrastructure. The other categories, in descending order of need, are treatment, storage, source and a miscellaneous category of needs called “other.”

The report is developed in consultation with a workgroup of consisting State and water utility representatives. To conduct the survey, EPA selects a set number of systems to serve as a statistical representation of an industry that has over 52,000 community water systems and 21,400 non-for-profit noncommunity water systems. The Agency sends questionnaires to all of the nation’s large water systems serving more than 100,000 people and a random sample to just over one-fourth of the medium systems serving more than 3,300 people. For the smallest systems, serving fewer than 3300 people, EPA sent surveys to 600 randomly-selected systems nationwide.  For the first two surveys, EPA also questioned a representative number of community water systems serving fewer than 3,300 people - including American Indian and Alaskan Native Village systems. For the 2007 survey, EPA utilized inflation factors to update the results of the 1999 findings that were derived from extensive field efforts. The 2007 response rate for all systems which received a questionnaire is high – 94.5%.

As directed by the SDWA, EPA uses the results of the survey to determine the allocation of the hundreds of million of annual DWSRF dollars to the states and tribes for helping build and improve the nation’s infrastructure for delivering safe drinking water. A Federal Register notice announcing the revised allotment percentages based on the results of the most recent survey is released shortly after release of the report every four years.

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