Need for water upgrades 'serious'
WATER WORKS: Report says region's water works infrastructure
in need of multimillion dollar upgrades
By Jerry Davich
Northwest Indiana Times
Published May 24, 2005
To most region residents, the importance of drinking
water and wastewater treatment facilities may equate with
the Water Works property in the game Monopoly.
But the underground labyrinth of public works and their
above-ground filtering and treatment plants serve as the
lifeblood of every community. If in doubt, try going a
day without pouring a glass of water or flushing a toilet.
Unfortunately, much of this region's water-works infrastructure
is outdated -- built decades ago -- and is in need of
replacement. This goes for the state and nearby Illinois
In its 2005 Report Card for America's Infrastructure,
the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country
a "D-" -- down from a "D" two years
ago -- in the status of its drinking water and wastewater
Nationally, nearly 30 percent of this country's 600,000
miles of sewer pipes will be in poor condition by 2020,
especially in older communities, the group predicts.
"Many systems have reached the end of their useful
designed lives," the report states.
Regionally, the report estimates that during the next
20 years, Indiana will need $1.7 billion for drinking
water works and $7.2 billion in wastewater upgrades. Illinois
will need $6.1 billion for drinking water and nearly $12
billion for wastewater during the same time period.
Locally, a more detailed assessment of this region's
needs was published by Indiana University's Center for
Urban Policy and the Environment, prepared for the Indiana
Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations.
The 2003 report states that Lake County alone has nearly
$1.3 billion in "high end" infrastructure needs
for drinking water and wastewater upgrades, second only
to Marion County. Porter County has $227 million in similar
Among those estimates, Lake County leads the state with
$137 million in drinking water-investment needs.
"The need is serious," said Tom Neltner of
the Indiana Clean Water Coalition in Indianapolis, a state
"Especially if we want to have the kind of quality
of life that is essential to attract the economic development
that Indiana seeks and needs."
Yet from 1990 to 2002, Indiana governments spent only
$253 million annually on such infrastructure upgrades,
the IU report states. To meet the needs identified, Indiana
governments would have to spend $650 million annually
during the next 20 years.
In Lake County, the total drinking water infrastructure
investment from 1990 to 2002 was $69 million, the most
spent by any county in the state. Porter County spent
$3.8 million. In wastewater investments, Lake County spent
$262 million and Porter County spent $58 million during
the same time period, the report states.
Neltner said the highly detailed report has not made
a dent close to home.
"The short-term economic focus of Hoosier government
has done its best to ignore it," he said.
Last week, yet another study warned that untreated waste
from combined sewer overflows, or CSOs, is fouling Lake
Michigan and its tributaries. These overflows are caused
by outdated systems that still combine stormwater with
domestic and commercial sewage, systems that haven't met
minimum federal standards for preventing such scenarios.
The study, by the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project,
used data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
and state agencies in Indiana and Illinois, just as the
civil engineers group did.
"These reports represent evidence that the old,
crumbling infrastructure in Illinois and Indiana is in
dire need of upgrades," said Frances Canonizado,
spokeswoman for the Illinois Public Interest Research
Group in Chicago.
"Allowing raw or partially treated sewage to flow
into our waterways is a third-world solution to our problems,"
These sewage overflows not only dump infectious diseases
into recreational waters and cause high E. coli counts,
but also infect healthy tourism along this region's lakefront,
In Indiana, more than 100 municipalities have older sewer
systems still in place, including many local communities.
Some, such as Hammond and Valparaiso, are involved in
costly upgrade projects.
Valparaiso, which uses a ground-water system for its
water needs, has begun a $10 million infrastructure improvements
project, funded by an $8.8 million bond issue. It's designed
to include a million-gallon water tower and upgrades of
two water treatment plants.
Hammond's Sanitary District recently approved a plan
to end the release of raw sewage into local waterways.
The $29 million project, set to begin in 2006, calls for
the construction of a 14-acre storage basin to hold mixed
rainfall and sanitary waste until it can be processed
at a treatment plant.
The district is under orders from federal and state agencies
to cease releasing the untreated sewage into local rivers
Never enough money
In Illinois, Chicago and 50 other Cook County municipalities
have combined sewer systems designed to treat 2 billion
gallons of wastewater per day, according to the Metropolitan
Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.
In the 1970s, the U.S. EPA helped develop a Tunnel and
Reservoir Plan -- a 110-mile system of underground tunnels
-- to catch combined sewer overflow and pump it to reservoirs
that hold the water until it can be sent to a treatment
facility for cleaning.
Today, 100 miles of these tunnels are working, with the
remaining network and reservoirs to be finished within
a decade. Funding is holding up the project.
"We'll never have enough money to build as many
plants or enough sewage-treatment capacity as we need,"
said Cameron Davis, executive director of the Alliance
for the Great Lakes, formerly the Lake Michigan Federation.
"We're not going to simply engineer our way out
of these problems with more funding or more bricks and
Instead, Davis suggests "soft-engineering solutions"
-- performed by residents as much as government agencies
-- like improving our water conservation habits.
The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission
is working on a regional watershed plan to better focus
local communities' attention on such solutions.
The group plans to address the suburban sprawl that typically
stretches thin any region's public works, said Reggie
Korthals, NIRPC's director of environmental planning and
Mark Reshkin, president of the Valparaiso Stormwater
Management Board, said sprawl surely will cause more sewage
Costly combined sewer separation projects will be a slow
process, he said, without significant federal money, especially
with the costs of the ongoing war in Iraq.
"All infrastructure renewal (cited) in the ASCE
report will suffer from inadequate funding," he said.