If your water bill increased recently, you might want to call the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The EPA has driven up the cost of water by cracking down on localities, forcing cities to borrow money to fulfill costly mandates, and in some cases forcing localities to clean water that is already safe to drink.
Just look at what the EPA is doing to New York City’s otherwise excellent water system.
New York City’s water is outstanding. Mayor Bloomberg claims that it is among the best in the world, a boast he can easily support.
The city has protected over 161,000 acres of land (251 square miles, or over half the size of Hong Kong) in its watershed to prevent contamination, and is planning on adding more. It also adds chlorine, phosphoric acid, and sodium hydroxide to disinfect the water and keep it free from lead.
City drinkers can count on their water being tested over a half million times a year. First at the watershed, which is tested 230,000 times a year, then over 300,000 times before the water hits the taps. In fact, city water drinkers can count on their water being tested 900 times a day after it leaves the watershed.
It is so clean that it does not need to be filtered. But clean is not good enough for the fanatics at the EPA, whose bureaucrats still worry about the infinitesimal risk of diarrhea caused by pathogens like cryptosporidium and giardia.
While over 9 million customers depend on NYC water, roughly 100 people a year become infected by cryptosporidium, and even then, New York disputes whether this diarrhea is caused by the water. New York City almost never finds crypto in its watershed, and when it does, results indicate it comes from wildlife sources that “are unlikely to infect humans.”
And those consumers truly worried about crypto can boil their water for a minute. There are even low cost water filters that claim to remove crypto from water.
The city also dismisses the threat of giardia, another waterborne pathogen known as Beaver Fever. Though Beaver Fever occurs more often than crypto, this is another red herring swimming in the New York City reservoir.
People do get Beaver Fever in New York City. While one can get it from drinking contaminated water (such as a lake or a stream), one is more likely to get it from diaper-aged children or from traveling abroad.
Health officials also warn that certain sexual practices can lead to Beaver Fever. New York City is adamant that none of its outbreaks can be attributed to the consumption of tap water.
In other words, waterborne pathogen-caused diarrhea in New York City is rare. Sickness from crypto in the city is about as common as breast cancer in men.
Notwithstanding this very low likelihood of getting sick from NYC water, the EPA has ordered the city to build a new Star Wars-style facility that will blast its water with ultra-violet (UV) rays. Like the Death Star, it will be the largest facility of its kind in the known universe (no joke!).
The EPA has even gone so far as to order New York to build a roof over one of its reservoirs to prevent the unlikely contamination by crypto.
Sounds reasonable until you realize that this is no ordinary roof: it will be the largest roof of its kind in the world; a mighty “eco-dome” that will cover what is essentially a 90-acre lake. It would be like building a roof over much of the Vatican City, and it will cost a small fortune.
The costs of this eco-fanaticism are extraordinary: The UV facility has an estimated cost of $1.42 billion, while the eco-dome will cost $1.6 billion.
And who pays for this? Not Obama’s EPA. Not Congress. New York City water customers — and in some cases taxpayers — pay for the costs of these enviro-boondoggles.
Every time the EPA forces a city to build something, that city will be forced to borrow money. This borrowing drives up water rates and even tax rates.
New York City argues that it has had to spend roughly $15 billion from 2002- 2010 just to fulfill legal mandates like the EPA eco-dome and UV Death Star array.
Not surprisingly, the price of water has increased over 93% during the same timeframe, and will have increased by 137% from 2002 by the end of this fiscal year.
That is not to say that cryptosporidium and giardia are not problems. They are, especially if one is suffering from a grave illness.
In 1993, cryptosporidium found its way into the Milwaukee water supply, sickening locals. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that the contamination came from Lake Michigan, possibly from the release of raw sewage into the lake. Milwaukee, for a variety of logistical reasons, was unable to monitor the water properly. The New England Journal of Medicine article recommended continuous monitoring of water as a solution in the absence of an inexpensive method.
New York, in contrast, doesn’t get its water from Lake Michigan, but from a highly protected rural watershed, making contamination from sewage unlikely. Furthermore, it tests its water over and over and over and over again. The Milwaukee problem is not an issue in New York City, which has taken innovative and cost-effective means to keep its water safe.
As even the liberal Senator Chuck Schumer likes to point out, New York’s reservoir has been uncovered for close to a century, without major health concerns. Even Schumer understands that “New York City should not be made to comply with rules that are unduly onerous or costly and not based on the best available data.”
New York is not the only city burdened by costly EPA mandates. There are plenty of news reports chronicling the struggles of localities attempting to comply with EPA mandates.
Syracuse, in economically challenged upstate New York, must spend $34 million for a new reservoir system to comply with EPA rules.
Ohio is getting hit especially hard by EPA water mandates. Cincinnati is building a $30 million UV plant, which the Cincinnati Enquirer called its largest water investment in two decades. Columbus, the largest city in Ohio, is reportedly attempting compliance with EPA mandates, even though it claims there is no crypto in its tap water.
The list goes on. Not surprisingly, national water rates have increased dramatically from 1999-2008.
So, why then is the EPA making NYC clean its already clean water? It could be a bizarre commitment to outdated rules. Or a one-size-fits-all approach to regulation. Or maybe even a belief that the federal government will always know better than a locality.
With or without an eco-dome and UV light Star Wars array, New York’s water will be as clean as ever, but at the added cost of $3 billion to satisfy the EPA eco-fanatics.
Oddly enough, President Obama signed an executive order recognizing the need for regulatory flexibility. Obviously his EPA neglected to read it. One thing is certain — water in the Obama years is about to get much more expensive, especially in politically important regions like Ohio.