EPA Adopting ‘Fix-it-First’ Infrastructure Policy — For Water

Environmental groups have long called for a national "fix-it-first" standard to apply to new transportation projects, requiring states to focus on repair of existing infrastructure before constructing new lane miles. The approach has caught on in several state capitals, but not in Washington -- except when it comes to water infrastructure.

539w.jpgA sign advertising "spring water" coffee in Boston, where a state of emergency was declared last weekend following a water main burst. (Photo: AP/Globe)
As the Washington Post reports today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) quietly released a new policy last month that tells state officials to use their $3 billion-plus in annual federal water grants to shore up creaky pipes before serving new housing developments on the outer edges of urban areas.

From the Post's piece:

The new guidance arguably arrives five years too late -- after a home building boom that swallowed up vast swaths of land. But building will eventually resume, and EPA officials say the leverage of the federal funding ... could coax states toward a more sustainable form of development. With so many cities contending with aging water pipes and sewer lines, officials say, it makes most sense to address those needs first.

The EPA's announcement was met with criticism from the home building industry and state water supervisors who do not believe their mandate should include preventing unsustainable growth.

But amid multiple ominous signs about the health of the nation's water systems -- a burst pipe that left millions of Bostonians without usable faucet water, and a long-term deficit of about $500 billion in state water funds -- a show of effectiveness for "fix-it-first" rules could strengthen the case for applying them to transportation projects in the future.