Rep. Paul E. Gillmor (Photo courtesy office of Rep. Gillmor)

Protecting the nation's drinking water should not focus solely on increasing the level of federal funding for water infrastructure, a senior Environmental Protection Agency official told a House subcommittee on April 11.

Benjamin H. Grumbles, EPA's deputy assistant administrator for water, admits there is a significant gap in the amount of money the Bush administration proposes to spend on drinking water state revolving loan funds in fiscal 2003 and various infrastructure needs assessments compiled by government and industry groups. EPA has requested $850 million next year to fund drinking water SRFs, the highest annual request since the program began.

But at the same time, long-range estimates put infrastructure costs in the billions of dollars. The Congressional Budget Office projects that annual capital costs will average $11.6 billion from 2000 to 2019 under its "low-cost" scenario and $20.1 billion under the "high-cost" case. The coalition of industry groups known as the Water Infrastructure Network puts the cost much higher: $26 billion. But Perry C. Beider, a CBO analyst, cautions that the industry coalition estimates include future debt service on current investment, much of which will be paid after 2019.

EPA has its own "gap analysis" report that is being finalized by administration officials. Due to be released shortly, a draft of the report states that the estimate of capital needs for drinking water over a 20-year period beginning in 2000 is $218 billion and that the investment needed to finance that infrastructure is $265 billion, or an annual average of $13.2 billion. Further the draft report states that capital spending is projected at $9.6 billion over the same time period. This leads to a capital payment gap of $3.7 billion per year, or $73 billion over the 20-year period.

Grumbles told the House Environment and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee that more resources need to be put into water infrastructure. But as the same time, costs must be reduced and water system owners and operators should become more self-sustaining in operating, managing and funding infrastructure. "We're missing the picture if the focus is on the level of federal funding," Grumbles said. Systems should find ways to "reduce costs at the end of the pipe to get the water clean," he said. Also, systems should become more aggressive in R&D, looking to better technology, he added.

Subcommittee Chairman Paul E. Gillmor (R-Ohio), said "Just putting pipes into the ground to deliver this water is not enough. Gillmor contends a comprehensive public health campaign is needed to "mobilize public and private resources to purify water from its initial source, through its distribution channels, and finally out of the tap."