WASHINGTON – Cumbersome EPA mandates are driving up costs as municipalities and providers struggle to maintain and upgrade Maryland’s water infrastructure, Baltimore’s mayor and the state’s chief water utility officer told the Senate Tuesday.
“Cities need some flexibility in meeting the requirements of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act,” said Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at a hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife chaired by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.
The subcommittee is part of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Rawlings-Blake said that progress has been made in this area since she became mayor in 2010 due to a new EPA approach to regulation.
Still, Rawlings-Blake, the co-chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Water Council, said that “you will see a frustration beyond belief” from mayors across the nation in “dealing with the fiscal realities of trying to meet these mandates.”
Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission CEO Jerry Johnson agreed, saying, “Do you continue to replace these water mains and the other systems that you know are going to go bad or do you let them languish while you go forward and focus on the other parts of the system that you are being required to do because of an EPA order? And those are very difficult (questions). You have to do it with a finite number of dollars and resources that you have available.”
Maryland’s water infrastructure is aging. A quarter of WSSC pipes in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties are more than 50 years old.
There are 1,700 breaks and leaks in an average year. Johnson said that pipe maintenance costs are $21.6 million dollars a year.
Cardin said he is encouraged by the new integrated planning approach to regulation that is being adopted by the EPA. The integrated planning approach will give cities more flexibility in complying with EPA mandates. It will allow them to focus on meeting the most beneficial mandate first, instead of pursuing each mandate with equal urgency, said Rawlings-Blake.
She suggested that Baltimore be a pilot city to test the new approach.
Cardin promised to help officials “get through the administrative, bureaucratic issues so that we can look at results.”
Cardin is trying to restore funding to the State Revolving Loan funds program through which the federal government gives municipalities low-interest loans to fund water infrastructure projects.
Rawlings-Blake said that Baltimore’s six-year capital improvement program faces a $4 billion funding shortfall.
WSSC’s 2012 fiscal year capital budget is about $600 million.