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America’s Neglected Wastewater Infrastructure

Policymakers need to invest in the resilience of our wastewater treatment infrastructure, explain the authors.

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idea light bulbThe second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy recalls the tragic loss of 117 lives across eight states, evoking images of flooded streets, power outages, and stranded communities. The storm also caused significant damage away from news cameras—underground and offshore—to wastewater infrastructure. Sandy’s powerful rainfall and record-setting storm surge overwhelmed wastewater systems throughout coastal New York and New Jersey, resulting in the overflow of almost 11 billion gallons of raw sewage into the stricken region’s streets, rivers, and coastal waters. This was enough untreated effluent to fill the Empire State Building 14 times.

Unfortunately, wastewater overflow is not unique to superstorms or to the East Coast. As climate change strains aging sewer systems around the country through increasingly severe weather and sea-level rise, the resilience of wastewater infrastructure is becoming a critical public and environmental health issue for communities and municipal and state governments.

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