Jul 08, 2008

Flooding Salt into the Infrastructure Wound

Thousands of people watched their belongings float away as a result of the worst Midwest flooding in 15 years.

The floods destroyed millions of acres of corn and soybeans, swept away homes and businesses, damaged roads and bridges, and overwhelmed water and sewage treatment systems.

After a week of severe storms at the beginning of June, Cedar Rapids and Des Moines in Iowa were among the hardest hit by floods.

Over the course of two weeks, floodwaters continued to swallow parts of Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, and as this issue of Water & Wastes Digest prepared to go to print, flood warnings were flashing in red for St. Louis, Mo.

Furthermore, floodwater samples taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency within the city limits of Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Hamburg and Burlington showed numbers of fecal coliform bacteria exceeding the health-based level of concern. According to recent news reports, the highest cfu range was found in the Cedar Rapids area and is believed to be associated with the fact that the wastewater treatment plant is not operating.

And the anticipated outcome—billions of dollars in losses, devastation—includes images not too far from the ones Hurricane Katrina painted in New Orleans in 2005. In Iowa alone the floods have caused an estimated $1.5 billion in damage.

While President George W. Bush did ask Congress for $1.8 billion to help the flood-affected areas, the question is: Will this flood disaster booster shot be enough to help repair an infrastructure that is already in a dire state?

After all, with an unimpressive (not to mention concerning) grade of D- for water and wastewater on the infrastructure report card, the U.S. has a long way to go even without the “help” of devastating natural disasters.

As the flooded communities cry out for help and for funding to recover from this catastrophe, time and time again it is the grim events that bring the focus back on the state of the almost century-old U.S. infrastructure.

According to a State and Local Government Law Institute 2008 report on aging infrastructure, more than $2,700 per U.S. taxpayer would be necessary in the next five years to fund the nation’s infrastructure needs—an estimated $1.6 trillion total.

A whopping number if you ask me, but likely a number not significant enough to cover the sewer, pipe and storage system needs of a fast-growing population … And the Midwest floods have only added more salt to the infrastructure wound.

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