City sewers could cost taxpayers billions
By Sharon Collins
CNN Headline News
(CNN) -- Sewers aren't sexy, so you rarely hear politicians making them a campaign issue.
Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin had to.
She inherited a crumbling infrastructure that allowed untreated sewage to enter the Chattahoochee River on a regular basis.
Franklin, who has dubbed herself the "sewer mayor," said "It was crumbling to the point that the federal government decided to make an example of Atlanta and required us to sign some pretty stiff consent decrees. We are using a system that is a hundred years old. Some of the pipes and lines are 80 to 100 years old. The infrastructure is being used by tens of thousands of people who were not even here 20 or 30 years ago."
Franklin fought numerous political battles, and with construction already under way, pushed through a $3 billion sewer improvement project.
There's a huge drill chipping away at bedrock to create new stormwater tunnels that cross under interstates and crawl beneath neighborhoods. Some residents will see their sewer bills go up as much as 199 percent over five years, but Franklin says Atlanta was between the proverbial rock and hard place.
"The ramifications would have been a moratorium on new development, all new development, residential and commercial; heavy fines from the federal government through the federal courts; and possibly the takeover of the city's water system," Franklin said.
Your backyard could be next. Other cities are facing similar problems.
"Our nation's water/wastewater infrastructure is literally crumbling beneath our city streets," said Rep. James Oberstar, a Democrat of Minnesota. "The hidden problem for America is 70 to 100 year water and sewer lines that don't have the capacity to respond to today's population growth and vastly increased water use and reuse."
Former EPA administrator Christine Whitman has called water quality and availability the most critical environmental issue of the future.
Our population depends on a finite water supply that is especially taxed during times of drought, yet many of the nation's rivers, streams and lakes are routinely polluted by aging sewer systems that allow everything from street runoff to untreated fecal matter to pass through when it rains or snows.
The Associated Press put the number of cities with outdated systems at 772, and the price tag to fix them runs in the billions.