Costly Wastewater Treatment Plants Fail To Perform as Expected

CED-81-9: Published: Nov 14, 1980. Publicly Released: Dec 15, 1980.

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Wastewater treatment plants are considered to be the frontline of the Nation's battle to eliminate water pollution and restore water quality to the thousands of miles of contaminated rivers, lakes, streams, and ocean shorelines throughout the country.

GAO found that over $25 billion in Federal funds and several billion in State and local moneys have been spent to construct new wastewater treatment plants or to significantly modify existing plants. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that through the year 2000 an additional $35.6 billion in Federal funds alone will be needed to construct additional treatment plants. GAO found that many of the plants, in operation for several years, have seldom or never met the performance standards they were designed to achieve. Failure of treatment plants to meet performance expectations may not only have an adverse impact on the Nation's ability to meet its clean water goals, but may also represent the potential waste of tens of millions of dollars in Federal, State, and local moneys.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should require the Administrator of EPA to report to Congress annually on (1) the number of municipal wastewater treatment plants, both major and minor, that have already received Federal grant funding to meet the 1977 secondary treatment requirements but are in serious violation of their permit conditions and (2) what is being proposed and done to ensure that the necessary repairs to these facilities will be made.

  2. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should require the Administrator of EPA to advise Congress annually on the progress being made to repair the identified facilities and who is being held financially accountable/responsible for making the repairs. If Federal funds are being used to make the repairs, advise Congress of the amount being spent.

  3. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should require the Administrator of EPA to test various alternatives to the current construction grants funding program concept including (1) turnkey, (2) becoming a signatory to the various contracts, and (3) assuming an advisor only role.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of EPA should develop and issue policy directives and instructions to the EPA Regional Administrators and appropriate State agencies on providing legal and technical assistance to grantees who wish to take legal action for identified contract deficiencies.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of EPA should require all EPA regions and strongly encourage the States to reinstitute a technical assistance program to help grantees identify, evaluate, and solve operational problems at their treatment plants.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of EPA should reemphasize to all involved parties that clear lines of accountability/responsibility must be established in contracts and that changes and modifications to the proposed systems during each of the three phases, planning, design, and construction, must be clearly documented.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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