News Briefs: Hundreds of Drinking Water Systems Affected by California Wildfires

Also in this week's sewer and water news, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has announced the investment of $178 million for 14 drinking water, wastewater and stormwater projects across the state

Much of the drinking water system operated by the San Lorenzo Valley (California) Water District has been damaged or destroyed in the CZU Lightning Complex wildfires that started burning in the northern part of the state last summer.

In 2020, hundreds of drinking water systems around the state experienced similar fates, according to a recent article by KTVU News.

“It’s costly and it is capable of doing real damage to a community’s ability to exist,” Stefan Cajina, who oversees about 20% of the state’s drinking water systems, tells KTVU. “You can't have a community without an intact water supply.”

New Lead and Copper Rule Could Raise Costs for Utilities 

The Environmental Protection Agency’s new Lead and Copper Rule is not expected to impact utility credit quality over the near-term, but it could have a material effect on certain water utilities’ capex and credit profiles over the medium- to long-term, particularly for those utilities that serve communities with a large proportion of older homes and buildings that will likely require greater lead service line remediation, Fitch Ratings says.

The LCR is expected to raise near-term operational costs for all utilities and negatively affect capital budgets in the longer term as LSLs are identified and replaced. Overall, the EPA expects annual costs to implement the LCR to be as much as $839 million, up to 80% more than the prior rule, with most of these costs borne by the water utilities. The increased costs of monitoring, outreach and lead service line replacement may crowd out other operating costs and infrastructure projects and could lead to higher rate increases than currently anticipated by utilities, heightening concerns in the industry over service cost affordability.

USDA to Invest $46 Million to Protect Against Wildfires and Improve Drinking Water

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will invest more than $46 million this year through the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership for projects that mitigate wildfire risk, improve water quality and restore healthy forest ecosystems on public and private lands.

Funding for 37 projects includes $13 million for eight new projects and $33.3 million to complete work on 29 projects previously selected in 2019 and 2020. Through the projects, USDA’s Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service are working hand-in-hand with agricultural producers, forest landowners and National Forest System lands to improve forest health using available Farm Bill conservation programs and other authorities.

“The Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership continues to provide an excellent example of the shared stewardship model,” says Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen. “The program enables federal, state, and local partners to work across boundaries and jurisdictions to accomplish joint management goals at a much larger scale.”

Pennsylvania Governor Announces Water/Wastewater Project Investments

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has announced the investment of $178 million for 14 drinking water, wastewater and stormwater projects across 11 counties through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST).

“This continued focus on improving and investing in our infrastructure is vital for strong communities,” says Wolf. “Partnering with community leaders to make these investments, which ensure increased access to clean drinking water and provide stable environments for Pennsylvanians to work and live, is paramount to our regrowth as a commonwealth.”


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