The United States needs more than $384 billion in upgrades to its drinking water systems over the next 20 years, according to a study by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The greatest need is replacing aging distribution infrastructure, which local officials say is the case in eastern Kentucky. Old pipes, pumps and tanks are the biggest need, according to the EPA’s fifth Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment of more than 73,000 water systems across the country.
Kentucky alone needs more than an estimated $6.2 billion in upgrades over the next 20 years. The majority, an estimated $4.8 billion, are for transmission and distribution upgrades. Treatment upgrades of $708 million, storage upgrades of $524 million, and source upgrades of $96.8 million along with $50.4 million needs classified as other were reported to the EPA by the state as part of the survey. Amounts are in 2011 dollars, according to the EPA.
In 2007, the EPA reported Kentucky needed $5.6 billion in upgrades up from $3.8 billion in 2003, $2.6 billion in 1999 and $3.6 billion in 1995, the first year the survey was completed.
Regional drinking water needs are very much in line with the national assessment, said Dan Cheek, the water services coordinator for the FIVCO area development district.
Cheek said of the 36 systems in the FIVCO area all but one reported their greatest need was aging infrastructure. “The same problem was aging infrastructure, how to maintain and repair it while at the same time extending service when you need to do that,” said Cheek.
Ashland is FIVCO’s largest water provider. It provides drinking water to between 50,000 and 60,000 customers, said Ryan Eastwood, Ashland’s director of Engineering and Utilities.
He echoed Cheek and the EPA study — aging infrastructure is by far the greatest need. However, he doesn’t put too much stock in the estimated totals. “Whenever someone comes and asks you what your needs are, well we need this, we need that, but if rate payers are paying for it, we don’t need it anymore,” he explained.
In Ashland, he said, the greatest need is for tank maintenance. The city has a dozen large water storage tanks, many of which have been in service for almost 80 years.
“They are rusting out and flaking on the inside,” said Eastwood. While breaks in water lines garner more attention, he said, “The biggest need is tank maintenance. You can make them look real pretty on the outside, but on the inside ...”
Eastwood said the city finished inspecting all of its tanks a few weeks ago, a process that has been ongoing since January.
“We know which ones are in poor condition, that need to be sandblasted and coated on the inside,” he said. “About four,” he said, are in pretty bad shape.
Upgrades on the outside and inside of the tanks will cost about $100,000 to $200,000 each and can be completed in about two weeks, said Eastwood. The city is planning to do the work, but it first must figure our how to maintain service.
For example, there is only one tank serving customers in the Catlettsburg area, including Marathon’s Catlettsburg Refinery, said Eastwood. “If we take it (the tank) down, and we’re only providing water by pumps and something happens, everyone is without water, including the refinery,” he said.
The situation is similar in Cannonsburg, which is fed by a large tank in the Summit area. To make matters worse, water officials weren’t exactly sure how to turn water off to all the tank as the maps marking the location of valves are as old as the tanks themselves, said Eastwood. “
Waterworks officials are doing some “experiments,” said Eastwood, “We’re working on that. We’re trying to figure out how to take the tank down without interrupting service,” he said.
Another area of need, said Eastwood, are pump stations that need upgrading with new technology that will both save on electricity and are easier to control. New pumps, he said, could help prevent some of those large water line breaks.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653 or by email at email@example.com.