Underground Construction’s 13th Annual Municipal Infrastructure Survey: Signs Of Life in Sewer/Water Economy

Stimulus Offers Small Aid; Slow Turnaround As Year Progresses
By Robert Carpenter, Editor | February 2010 Vol. 65 No. 2

Sewer rehabilitation spending in 2009 was $3.35 billion. That number is expected to climb to $3.56 billion, or 5.9 percent, for 2010. Water rehab was stronger than anticipated in 2009 and should climb to $1.62 billion for this year while storm water rehabilitation will remain relatively flat at $800 million.

Overall construction and rehabilitation spending for sewer, storm water and water is expected to rise 2.4 percent to $14.1 billion in 2010, according to survey respondents.

The annual municipal surveys were distributed through both regular mail and e-mail to a targeted, non-duplicate sampling of over 9,000 municipal management personnel directly involved or responsible for underground piping infrastructure across the United States. Respondents were from all 50 states, grouped by region and weighted by populations and city sizes to avoid skewing results. The study was conducted in November and December of 2009. Cities responding to the survey ranged in size from 158 and 265, all the way up through the nation’s most populous cities: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.

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For many reasons – often politically motivated – city councils have historically been reluctant to raise sewer and water rates to keep pace with normal inflation, system growth and routine maintenance and rehabilitation. As federal and state funding programs have shrunk over the past 20 years, an increasing number of cities have reluctantly recognized that user fees should more accurately match true costs. The result has been a steady trend to boost user fees. The survey found that cities are still dragging their feet, albeit not as slowly as in the past. As we enter 2010, the national average for cities between rate hikes is 3.4 years. A surprisingly large number of cities, both large and small, reported that it had been between five and 10 years since their last sewer/water fees were raised.