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Officials push for millions in fixes for city water treatment system

RIVERVIEW – At well over a century old, the city’s drinking water treatment system is still providing the best-tasting water for everyone who turns on the tap. But it can’t keep doing that without expensive major repairs.

That was the pitch of federal and local officials Wednesday after they toured the Chain of Rocks Drinking Water Treatment Plant at 10450 Riverview Drive.

Afterwards, St. Louis Director of Public Utilities Curt Skouby said at a news conference that the city’s aging water treatment and distribution infrastructure needed about $400 million worth of work to stay in top condition.

Skouby and a group of officials who included Mayor Tishaura Jones, U.S. Rep. Cori Bush and EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said legislation now before Congress could provide that money. 

President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan includes $111 billion in water infrastructure investments in local communities across the country. That legislation provides more than $2 trillion for a variety of road, bridges, airports, electrical grid, broadband internet and numerous other infrastructure needs.

Jones said, “President Biden’s American jobs plan will bring much-needed upgrades to St. Louis as water infrastructure with innovative and efficient new technologies, delivering fresh drinking water to our children and communities of color who have suffered decades of intentional disinvestment and creating fair wages for people throughout the St. Louis region,” Jones said. 

Jones said she looked forward to working with Regan and Bush in helping to bring the city’s water infrastructure into the 21st century.

Jones noted that the project would be part of a tradition of water system innovation here. That included the development before the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair of a process to remove river sediment from our drinking water. In 2007, the city’s water was so clean that it was named the best tasting in the country.

“Today, we have yet another chance for innovation,” Jones said.

St. Louis offers a prime example of what water structure means in our communities, Regan said.

“We see the need to replace and upgrade water infrastructure as a revitalization opportunity for communities to move into the next century,” Regan said. “At EPA, we are committed to ensuring healthier, more equitable communities through water infrastructure investments, and we’re excited about the opportunities that the president’s American Jobs Plan provides.”

The Chain of Rocks plant provides a good example of the need for major upgrades in water systems, Regan said. Although it still provides good quality drinking water, he said, major improvements are needed. 

Skouby noted that the average age of the city’s two water treatment plants is 100 years.

“We have never had a water quality violation in our existence, and we’ve been operating since 1835,” he said. “This cannot continue indefinitely unless the system needs are funded.” 

Most of the distribution system is more than 80 years old. It has 1,300 miles of water mains, 26,000 valves and 15,000 fire hydrants. 

“In addition, the American Jobs Plan has provisions to help our community to replace tens of thousands of lead service lines that exist today,” Skouby explained. “While the city has done a good job maintaining water quality, it’s simply time for the lead lines to be gone.”

Bush said the EPA team was working with her to deal with the urgent environmental needs of St. Louis. The Biden administration and the EPA have a renewed focus on environmental justice in communities that need it, she said.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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