Recent flooding in the Midwest has dredged up yet another crisis involving nation's aging infrastructure: Heavy rains are regularly overwhelming worn-out sewer systems—some cities have sewage pipes that are 50 to 100 years old—resulting in sewage overflow and, causing lake and river pollution, and generally being very very unsanitary (to say the least).
Roughly 860 billion gallons of raw or partially treated sewage are pumped by already overtaxed sewer systems into America's waterways, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The problem of aging sewers is only going to grow bigger as federal funding for repairs has fallen, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.In 2005, the society gave U.S. wastewater treatment plants a grade of D minus, down from a D in the previous report in 2001.
And yes, it can only get worse, according to a draft EPA report that says cities should prepare for overflows to worsen, as climate change may lead to more rain and snow in the Great Lakes area and the Northeast.
As far as major face lifts go, an estimated $390 billion worth of work needs to be done on the nation's sewage systems over the next 20 years, according to the environmental group American Rivers—a cost that local officials say has residents clutching at their purse strings.