Grades Are In: Connecticut Scores C- on Infrastructure

Grades Are In: Connecticut Scores C- on Infrastructure

JANUARY 03, 2019

Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) appraises 16 categories of infrastructure and releases a national report card with its findings. Letter grades are determined based on capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation. In addition to this national assessment, state ASCE chapters review the status of local infrastructure resulting in a similarly-ranked letter grade. In October, the Connecticut Society of Civil Engineers (CSCE) released its 2018 Connecticut Infrastructure Report Card, awarding a C- average based on the status of the state’s bridges, drinking water, rail, roads, and wastewater. 

Julie Silva, a Woodard & Curran engineer based in our Enfield, Conn. office co-authored this report. Silva assessed drinking water and wastewater systems, developing a detailed summary of condition and recommendations for improvement. The analysis serves to inform citizens and policymakers of critical upgrades and maintenance necessary to preserve existing infrastructure and attract new residents and businesses.

Work is necessary to maintain high-quality drinking water

Approximately 78 percent of Connecticut’s population receives high-quality drinking water from public water systems (PWS). However, much of this infrastructure is aging and need ongoing maintenance, rehabilitation, and upgrades. As such, the overall analysis of potable water resulted in a C- grade for the state. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment estimates a $3.5 billion investment is required to maintain existing infrastructure from 2011 to 2030. This figure does not, however, factor in expansion of service for residents or fire protection. While there are low-interest loans available from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF), it only constitutes a small fraction of the estimated investment. In fact, rate-payers foot most of the bill for maintenance and improvement, with annual bills averaging $509.  

Ultimately, it is difficult to obtain required funds to meet the ongoing needs of a PWS. Historically, rate payers are charged less than what is necessary to maintain the system long-term. CSCE’s report recommends implementing a full cost of service rate structure in order to address needed repairs, rehabilitations, or replacements before the infrastructure fails. Additionally, keeping strict source protection laws for drinking water in place will minimize the level of treatment needed to remove contaminants and maintain public health. 

Aging wastewater infrastructure also at risk

While there are hundreds of thousands of private septic systems, most of Connecticut’s population is served by the public sewer system carrying wastewater to a wastewater treatment facility (WWTF). The evaluation of these systems resulted in a D+ grade. As with many areas of New England, the biggest concern is aging systems. Old piping can become undermined and subject to infiltration and inflow (I/I). More frequent severe storms increase the incidents of I/I and put nearly 50 sewage plans at high risk for flooding. Furthermore, the report estimated an investment of $4.6 billion for repairs and upgrades is necessary.

While the age of systems poses a problem, so does the technology used when it was constructed. Some larger systems were originally designed to handle both wastewater and stormwater. Once considered economical, these combined sewer overflow (CSO) systems are no longer keeping pace. The state has six large sewer systems with CSOs still in place. Eliminating the CSOs can be expensive and complex, but agencies are working to reduce or remove these systems when possible.  Six of these large systems remain.

How to raise the grade

The biggest challenge in all areas assessed for the 2018 Connecticut Infrastructure Report Card is funding. Municipalities and districts are often overwhelmed by the price tag on repairs or upgrades, but Woodard & Curran assists clients in finding financial assistance. For example, we helped the community of Tariffville secure $1.3 million to replace a large water storage tank. The allowed for a system upgrade without a significant rate increase for customers. 

While tempting to defer improvement or replacement projects to avoid tax hikes or rate increases, it behooves state and local governments to prioritize investment in infrastructure even during challenging budget cycles. Without properly investing in infrastructure, communities may face implications, such as loss of residents and businesses, in turn impacting the state’s economy. A robust and sustainable investment in infrastructure will incentivize businesses to stay and attract new business. Furthermore, with environmental changes and increasingly severe storms, improvements and modernization to infrastructure will help the state’s systems be more resilient. This applies to not only public water and wastewater systems, but also to roadways, bridges, and other key elements. 



National Practice Leader
Municipal Wastewater

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Julie Silva
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