Series explains issues about plan to repair infrastructure

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According to the Walla Walla's Infrastructure Sustainability Plan, "Walla Walla is facing a systematic and simultaneous failure of three critical infrastructure systems: water, sewer and streets."

It isn't a new threat, but one that has steadily grown over the decades since the first public water and sewer utilities were established here in the 1890s.

Currently the city has 140 miles of underground pipes and roads. And currently city officials report 115 miles are at failing status.

But why propose this plan now?

Why double sewer and water rates by 2015, when the economy is facing a slow recovery?

City officials said the problem is going to get worse not better. They point out that putting people to work will help create jobs and stimulate our local economy. And city officials want to capitalize on the current low construction costs.

So the Public Works Department is proposing a 93-year replacement plan.

Walla Walla is not alone in its plight.

According to a 2009 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers, one-third of America's roads are in poor or mediocre condition. But Americans spend yearly less than half of what is needed to fix those roads, roughly $70 billion of the $186 billion needed.

The report went on to cite the Environmental Protection Agency, which stated that nationally $390 billion will be needed over the next 20 years to replace failing sewer systems and build new ones to meet increasing demand.

It also estimated an $11 billion yearly shortfall in funding for potable water needs.

What will happen if Walla Walla delays the repairs?

According to the Infrastructure Sustainability Plan, the city could be fined by the EPA and the Washington State Department of Ecology for not meeting environmental standards; possible damage to the surrounding aquifer; health risks due to the cross contamination of sewage and potable water sources; an exponential increase to replacement costs; and impact to business viability and property values, among other consequences.

Editor's note

On Thursday, the city of Walla Walla will host the first of four public meetings for the proposed Infrastructure Sustainability Plan, held at The Center At The Park, 720 Sprague Street, Jefferson Park, 5:30 p.m. To help readers understand the issues surrounding this plan, the Union-Bulletin is running a series of articles this week dealing with different aspects of it.

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