State facing steep bill to keep water systems running

With more than 35,000 miles of rivers and streams, 105,000 acres of publicly owned lakes and reservoirs, and 45 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, Indiana has abundant water—aboveground and in aquifers—to slake its thirst.

But much of the infrastructure that transports that water from municipal drinking water plants to homes and businesses is old and worn, and Indiana, like other states, faces costs to complete needed upgrades, repairs and expansions.

Here's a look at those costs and how much federal aid is available to pay for them:

Where does the water come from?

About a quarter of Indiana's nearly 6.5 million residents get their drinking water from private domestic wells, but the remainder are served by municipal sources or utilities that send that water to customers through miles of water transmission pipes and water mains.

Most Indiana utilities pull the water they treat for customers from a mixture of underground municipal wells and aboveground sources such as rivers and lakes.

Old, leaky infrastructure

Many of those water transmission lines are a century old or older, made of cast-iron or clay pipes that are deteriorating and often riddled with cracks and leaks, said Dan Goldblatt, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. Such older lines also can't maintain the same water pressure levels as newer lines.

In the heavily populated Indianapolis metropolitan area, utility Citizens Energy maintains about 4,330 miles of water-transmission pipes over that nine-county region. More than half of the utility's water mains are cast-iron and concrete lines that are 45 years or older.

Citizens Energy spokeswoman Sarah Holsapple said the utility's water system had until recently included about 100 feet of wooden water main dating from the late 1800s, but those were replaced within the past two years.

However, leaks or breaks in the utility's other aging water lines mean Citizens Energy loses an estimated 4 billion to 6 billion gallons of water each year, and the cost of fixing those lines is significant.

Holsapple said it costs about $6,000 to repair a water main and about $300 per foot to replace those lines.

Indiana's projected cost for keeping its existing drinking water infrastructure running is about $6.5 billion, with some $4.5 billion of that needed for pipelines and water distribution projects. The remainder is needed for water treatment, water storage and other projects.

Indiana's projected costs rank 21st among the 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Indiana's share

From 2011 through 2015, Indiana received about $270 million from the main federal aid program devoted to helping states maintain their drinking water systems by allowing them to offer communities low-interest loans for projects, according to the EPA's estimate.

Unspent money, funding priorities

Despite the need, the largest federal aid program for improving the nation's drinking water system has more than $1 billion sitting unspent in government accounts, a review of data by The Associated Press shows. That's largely the result of project delays, poor management by some states and structural problems.

Indiana has spent most of the $270 million it received from that program, but about $14 million, or 5 percent of that amount, remains unspent, the EPA's figures show.

Indiana's State Revolving Fund, which provides low-interest loans for drinking-water projects, has identified 22 communities with priority projects that together would cost more than $82 million, said Jim McGoff, general counsel for the Indiana Finance Authority, which administers the loans.

Those include about $1.1 million needed by the northern Indiana town of Reynolds for a project to replace an 85-year-old water storage tank.


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