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Wastewater Infrastructure Needs of New York State Report

The protection of our waterbodies, the health of our communities and the prospects for future economic growth are linked to modern, reliable and efficient wastewater treatment systems. However, systems are failing, and municipalities do not have the funds to adequately repair and replace necessary infrastructure. The conservative cost estimate of repairing, replacing, and updating New York's municipal wastewater infrastructure is $36.2 billion over the next 20 years. This is more than local governments and the state can address on their own.

This report, developed by the Department and the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation, is intended to provide a comprehensive overview of the state's wastewater infrastructure needs, identify the factors that have led to the current problem, and establish a context for assessing and determining the steps needed to address our wastewater infrastructure needs. This report (510 KB, PDF) should serve as a foundation for New York's efforts to attack the issue, and as a first step in the critical process of establishing a sustainable wastewater infrastructure funding program.

Executive Summary


The conservative cost estimate of repairing, replacing, and updating New York's municipal wastewater infrastructure is $36.2 billion over the next 20 years. In the past, the federal and state governments have provided significant funding for infrastructure repair and replacement. This is not true today. In the 1990s, the federal grants program shifted to a low-interest loan program, making it harder for many communities to address their infrastructure needs. New York voters approved the 1996 Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act (CW/CA BA) which provided funding for wastewater infrastructure in certain areas, but these funds have been fully obligated. To date, New York State has invested over $11 billion in wastewater infrastructure.

Across New York State there are over six hundred wastewater treatment facilities that serve 1,610 municipalities. The facilities range in size from New York City's vast system that processes 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater a day through 14 facilities, to small village systems that process less than 100,000 gallons a day. These facilities provide wastewater treatment for more than 15,000,000 people across the state.

With limited federal and state assistance, the burden of maintaining wastewater infrastructure falls on local governments. Many local municipalities have trouble convincing their residents that infrastructure must be managed proactively, including planning for repairs and replacement and charging rates that cover those costs. Fewer than 40 percent of municipalities have a capital improvement plan for their wastewater collection systems. Except for transportation infrastructure, water and wastewater infrastructure are the largest municipal assets. This report is an initial step toward the development of a sustainable infrastructure funding program at the federal, state and local level. Adequate water infrastructure funding is a critical component of urban revitalization, smart economic growth and property tax relief. It is essential for the protection of public health and environment.

Report Overview

The state fiscal year 07-08 (SFY) budget included $300,000 to assist the Department of Environmental Conservation (Department) in assessing statewide wastewater infrastructure improvement needs and to report its findings. This is the Department's report. The Department plans to use the budget item to further refine the estimates developed in this report to better understand the full scope of infrastructure funding requirements and to present suggested cost-effective solutions.

There are many factors that have caused the cost of New York State's wastewater infrastructure to increase. Many facilities are past their expected useful lives. In addition, new federal standards push the need for enhanced wastewater treatment systems, as well as the sometimes costly programs to address stormwater, combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and separate sanitary overflows. All this is happening in the wake of the federal government's systematic disinvestment in wastewater infrastructure.

New York State is fortunate to have vast water resources. These resources are critical to the 18 million New Yorkers who rely on them for drinking, bathing and recreation. Plentiful waters can form the foundation of economic expansion, as other areas of the nation suffer from chronic shortages. Yet these resources are in peril of being re-contaminated due to declining wastewater infrastructure. Undertreated or raw sewage, street waste and nutrient pollution cause excess algae and weed growth and otherwise impair New York States precious waters including: Long Island Sound; the Hudson River; the Mohawk River; Lake Champlain; Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and the Finger Lakes.

To assess New York's aging infrastructure, the Department and the Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) formed a wastewater infrastructure workgroup. As one of the first steps in developing the report, the workgroup reviewed the Clean Watersheds Needs Survey (CWNS) that EFC conducts every four years with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Needs Survey covers a variety of infrastructure costs, is focused on municipal systems and contains high quality data. However, the Needs Survey covers a limited universe of projects for which actual engineering plans have been prepared, and does not include estimates of any anticipated needs that have not undergone this advanced level of project development. Therefore, the Needs Survey provides only a limited and conservative cost estimate. Emerging issues that affect future wastewater infrastructure needs are not included in the Needs Survey. Nor does the Needs Survey include residential septic systems because they are not eligible for Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (CWSRF) funding.

In addition to EPA's CWNS, the workgroup reviewed other existing data sets held by the Department and its partners, and considered pollutants and standards that wastewater infrastructure may have to address in the future. The data that the workgroup reviewed fell into three categories for municipal wastewater infrastructure needs:

Clean Watersheds Needs Survey Data

  • Municipal Wastewater Treatment Facility Upgrades
  • Collection and Conveyance Systems
  • Combined Sewer Overflow Correction
  • Nonpoint Source Pollution Control

Other Existing Data Sets

  • Maintaining Facilities and Appurtenances
  • Operation and Maintenance
  • Auxiliary Power at Plants
  • Restoring Water Quality
  • Unsewered Communities

Future Infrastructure Needs Data

  • Protecting Water Quality
    • Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Retrofit
    • New Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs)
    • Enhanced Water Quality Standards
    • Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products
  • Protecting Water Resources
    • Water Shortages

It is unlikely that any one funding source will meet the projected financial needs of wastewater infrastructure that arise under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) and federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Federal, state and local governments will need to establish stronger partnerships toward a long-term solution. Components for a sustainable funding program could include: a well-funded CWSRF; low-interest loan programs; federal grants; state grants; hardship community grants and adequate local rates sufficient to address current and projected funding requirements. Considerations for developing the program include: asset management; innovative technology; fairness; future infrastructure challenges; the relationship of infrastructure to smart growth and economic development; and local government efficiency. The Department looks forward to working closely with the public and the Legislature on developing this critical funding program.

Table of Contents

List Of Acronyms

Executive Summary
Report Overview

Wastewater Infrastructure
The Federal Clean Water Act
Aging Infrastructure
Water Quality Requirements
Combined Sewer Overflows
Sanitary Sewer Overflows

Overview Of Infrastructure Funding History
Federal Infrastructure Funding History
New York State Infrastructure Funding History

How State Financial Needs Estimates Were Derived
Municipal Wastewater Infrastructure
Residential Wastewater Infrastructure
Climate Change

Data Evaluation And Next Steps
Municipal Wastewater Infrastructure
20-Year Estimate Of Municipal Wastewater Infrastructure Needs In New York
Residential Wastewater Infrastructure
20-Year Estimate Of Residential Wastewater Infrastructure Needs In New York
Climate Change

New Funding Program Components And Considerations
Components Of A Sustainable Funding Program
Considerations Of A Sustainable Funding Program