Large Construction Projects To Correct Combined Sewer Overflows Are Too Costly

CED-80-40: Published: Dec 28, 1979. Publicly Released: Dec 28, 1979.

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In many U.S. cities, stormwater and waste flow through the same systems. Overflows of these combined sewers from heavy rains allow pollutants to enter waterways, streets, and basements. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated that almost $26 billion was needed to fund the pollution control portion of any project that might undertake to separate the Nation's combined sewers. A report focused on progress in stemming the Nation's combined sewer pollution and flooding problem.

Little progress has been made toward solving combined sewer problems, primarily because insufficient funds were available for large-scale projects. Of the 15 major cities with combined sewer systems that GAO visited, less than half have started construction projects to solve their problems, and eventual completion seemed doubtful for many such projects that were underway. Since sufficient money for large-scale solutions to the Nation's combined sewer problems has not been forthcoming, alternative approaches have been explored which attempt to mitigate pollution and flooding problems through better and more flexible management practices. However, inflexibility in national and State water quality goals, funds allocation, and agency jurisdictions has hampered the pursuit of alternative solutions.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The 1981 amendments to the Clean Water act authorized that combined sewer projects be limited for fiscal years 1983-85 to those affecting bays and estuaries, and that no combined sewer overflow projects be funded fiscal year 1985.

    Matter: Congress should amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1974 to: (1) allow for increased flexibility in meeting water quality goals in those cases where it is determined that the cost to achieve such goals is prohibitive; (2) allow EPA to fund lower cost nonstructural or limited structural techniques that cannot by funded under current legislation and that are not normally considered operating and maintenance costs; and (3) permit Federal funding of flood projects when the flooding is caused by combined sewer systems and the sollution is part of a total approach designed to minimize both pollution and flooding in the combined system.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The 1981 amendments to the Clean Water Act authorized that combined sewer projects be limited for fiscal years 1983-85 to those affecting bays and estuaries, and that no combined sewer overflow projects be funded beyond fiscal year 1985.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should require that communities adopt a lower cost approach, including maximum use of innovative and alternative techniques, before funds will be granted for costly structural solutions.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The 1981 amendments to the Clean Water Act authorized that combined sewer projects be limited for fiscal years 1983-85 to those affecting bays and estuaries, and that no combined sewer overflow projects be funded beyond fiscal year 1985.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should speed the transition of proven new technology from the research and development stage to the construction grant stage.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The 1981 amendments to the Clean Water Act authorized that combined sewer projects be limited for fiscal years 1983-85 to those affecting bays and estuaries, and that no combined sewer overflow projects be funded beyond fiscal year 1985.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should mount a vigorous program of promoting less costly solutions and educating architect/engineering firms, States, communities, and the public on the need for them.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The 1981 amendments to the Clean Water Act authorized that combined sewer projects be limited for fiscal years 1983-85 to those affecting bays and estuaries, and that no combined sewer overflow projects be funded beyond fiscal year 1985.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should develop guidelines outlining an approach that should be followed in combating the combined sewer problem. Such quidelines should, among other things, emphasize BMPs and provide comprehensive quidelines for using alternative techniques.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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