Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mayor Franklin’s Testimony at the United States Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs - Excerpts

GFP Note: Mayor Shirley Franklin was one of four mayors who testified before a Congressional Committee on June 12, 2008 on declining infrastructure and the financial impact. The entire testimony can be found at at this link.

Good Morning, Chairman Dodd, Ranking Member Shelby and Members of the Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to testify before the Committee on the condition of the infrastructure in the City of Atlanta. As I am sure you are aware, the infrastructure of most, if not all, American cities is in a declining state. We mayors are on the front lines, coping daily with frequent shortfalls in our aging infrastructure while we struggle to address the staggering costs of repairs, and more often than not are unable to even consider the expense of replacement of these critical systems.

When I took office as Mayor of the City of Atlanta in January 2002, it did not take long for me to realize that the City’s severely neglected infrastructure would require my immediate attention, particularly the rebuilding of our water and sewer infrastructure. We recently passed the halfway mark in our $4 billion Clean Water Atlanta Initiative, the details of which I will share with you momentarily.

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, Atlanta’s water and sewer system and transportation infrastructure system are the areas on which I will focus my testimony.
Water and Sewer Infrastructure.

Clean drinking water and wastewater are local, regional and national issues. Cities must continue to do their part to address the challenges facing our water and sewer infrastructure systems. However, we cannot do it alone. We need state support and support from Washington. We need a partner in the federal government. Let me tell you about what we’re doing in Atlanta.

Clean Water Atlanta Initiative

In the Fall of 2002, I announced the launch of the Clean Water Atlanta Program, a comprehensive long-term program involving a complete overhaul of the City’s water and sewer infrastructure. The program includes a $4 billion, court-ordered mandate to repair and replace the City’s water and sewer infrastructure, which will ensure that our residents and businesses have clean drinking water and that our downstream neighbors have safe water supplies.
As part of the Clean Water Program, we have drastically reduced sanitary and combined sewer overflows; separated the sewers, leaving only the downtown area with combined sewers; built more than 120 miles of new water mains; inspected more than 1,000 miles of sewers; and rehabbed about 250 miles of sewers. As a result of these efforts, one of our primary waterways – the Chattahoochee River – is cleaner than it was 10 years ago.

Although we have secured $500 million in low-interest state loans and approximately $6 million in grants from the EPA, we have undertaken this major project largely on the backs of the City’s residents, some 25 percent of whom live at or below the poverty line. Atlanta’s customers are already paying some of the country’s highest water and sewer rates. When you add the challenges associated with our drought to these infrastructure costs, the problem becomes even larger.

The condition of Atlanta’s water and sewer infrastructure has a profound effect not just on the City, but on the entire Metropolitan region. Atlanta is the economic engine of the State of Georgia and the City’s continuing prosperity has impacts well beyond its geographical boundaries throughout the entire Southeast. Atlanta cannot grow in an economically sound and sustainable way without reliable water and sewer systems. And if Atlanta’s growth stalls, Georgia and the Southeast will suffer.

National Scope of Water and Sewer Problems

Atlanta’s situation is not unique. Most American cities either are now or will soon be facing the problems Atlanta is facing. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that there is a $534 billion funding gap between what is available and what the needs are nationwide for water projects. The nation’s 54,000 drinking water systems face staggering public investment needs over the next 20 years. Although America spends billions on infrastructure each year, drinking water faces an annual shortfall of at least $11 billion to replace aging facilities that are near the end of their useful life and to comply with existing and future federal water regulations. The shortfall does not account for any growth in the demand for drinking water over the next 20 years.

The drinking water lost from leaking pipes can range from 5 to 40 percent in some cities, which is a tremendous cost in terms of water loss. This is occurring at a time when 35 percent of cities will face water shortages by 2025, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ 2005 survey of cities.

According to a 2004 estimate, the Environmental Protection Agency says the nation’s sewers are in such woeful shape that we are discharging 850 billion gallons of combined sewer
overflows a year into our streams and rivers, and another 10 billion gallons of sanitary sewer overflows.

Local governments are the primary investor in water and wastewater infrastructure in the U.S. According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the local government share of spending on sewer infrastructure and services is more than 95 percent, with the state share being less than 5 percent. For water systems infrastructure and services, the local government share is more than 99 percent. The trend is for greater spending on water and sewer infrastructure and services due to a variety of factors including population growth and land use, an aging water infrastructure requiring ongoing maintenance and rehabilitation, and the impacts of climate change.

Attached to my statement is a chart compiled by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which reflects these trends. As you will see, local governments shoulder a significant portion of these growing infrastructure costs, at the same time that Congressional funding for water infrastructure and services remains nearly the same as funding levels from 10 to 20 years ago.

Completely overhauling the country’s aging infrastructure cannot be a prospect left solely to the cities, many of which struggle daily to provide the services an aging population demands. The cities are not looking for a handout. But at some point the federal government has to make a commitment to the health of the nation’s cities, and that is going to require money. Cities need a direct partner in the federal government because the country’s prosperity depends on the health of its cities.


No comments: