Washington, D.C. — The second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, which took the lives of 117 people and caused billions of dollars in property damage and lost economic output, has renewed the focus on the nation’s aging infrastructure and the effects that more and more powerful storms caused by climate change will have on already weakened roads, bridges, and buildings. However, one prominent cost of the storm—the failure of aging wastewater infrastructure in New York and New Jersey—has received significantly less attention. This vital infrastructure, whose many systems are already old and overtaxed, is at a significant risk from the growing effects of climate change. Already, neglected wastewater systems spill an estimated 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage and wastewater into U.S. waterways each year, and rising sea levels and more frequent and powerful storms are likely to exacerbate this, resulting in system failures that pose major risks to public health and economic vitality.
In a new report, the Center for American Progress takes a look at the danger climate change poses to wastewater systems from stronger storms, higher seas, and heavier downpours and offers realistic and cost-effective recommendations to shore up this aging infrastructure before the next massive storm. Chief among those recommendations are that all new investments in wastewater infrastructure take into account the projected impacts of climate change and that affordable, green infrastructure solutions be considered.
“America’s wastewater infrastructure and its impact on cleaning up our waterways was one of our nation’s biggest environmental and public health accomplishments of the 20th century,” said Shiva Polefka, CAP Policy Analyst and co-author of the report. “Unfortunately, policymakers are failing to make the investments that are badly needed not only to maintain this aging system, but also to prepare it for the impacts of climate change such as stronger storms and rising seas that are already affecting Americans’ daily lives. This neglect is putting public health, the environment, and our way of life at risk. By stepping up to make the investments we need for reliable, climate-change-ready wastewater infrastructure, policymakers can put Americans to work, protect our waterways, and avert significantly greater long-term costs.”
The report makes the following recommendations:
- Integrate climate risk into all new wastewater infrastructure
- Finance resilience improvements through state infrastructure banks
- Prioritize resilience in state revolving-fund investments, accounting for regional differences in climate change vulnerability
- Invest in green infrastructure and the protection and restoration of wetlands and coastal ecosystems to protect and supplement wastewater treatment systems
For more information on this topic, contact Tom Caiazza at 202.481.7141 or gro.ssergorpnacirema@azzaiact.