The state of Kentucky received an overall score of C- in a 2019 infrastructure report card compiled by the American Society of Civil Engineers. While a C is considered a mediocre score, a D is considered poor, and Kentucky scored in between the two letter grades on infrastructure studies that concerned aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, energy, hazardous waste, roads, solid waste and wastewater.
While Kentucky received a B- score on energy and solid waste, Kentucky civil engineers gave Kentucky a D for hazardous waste and a C- for wastewater.
The wastewater scorecard says while Kentucky has improved its statewide wastewater resources over the last two decades, the Commonwealth is “faced with treatment facilities that are an average of 36 years old, as well as aging pipelines that send wastewater to the treatment plants.” The report card also states that 40 percent of Kentuckians rely on septic tanks and other private systems, and the status for many of those systems is unknown.
Aging infrastructure regarding wastewater is something Victor Cernius, Director of Operations at Owensboro’s Regional Water Resource Agency (RWRA) is highly aware of, yet Cernius feels that aging water pipes and underground systems often get overlooked because they run underground and the damages they incur are unseen by most people.
“Their report, the C- they’re giving us, is based on status and age, how much money needs to be kept to maintain it,” Cernius said. “They’ve got it up in the billions here.”
The infrastructure report card states that the 2012 Clean Watersheds Needs Survey (CWNS) indicated $6.2 billion were needed for different wastewater projects across the state.
Cernius said aging infrastructure for wastewater is not only a need across the state, but nationwide as well.
With $271 billion as a country needed for wastewater repairs, Cernius said, “We as a country don’t prioritize on spending for infrastructure, especially infrastructure you can’t see. It raises people’s taxes.”
The out of sight, out of mind mindset adopted by most Americans is part of the reason wastewater infrastructure suffers from aging pipes and pumps below the surface. Vernius said RWRA works closely with local government and political figures to express repairs RWRA needs and relay those needs to the public.
“We do our best to present the honest and true needs to the political system, and the Rate Review Board (made up of local representatives) sets the rates. It’s a mutual agreement between us and them. Utilities all over do the best they can with the utilities people have to pay, and the needs we have. RWRA is aware of the needs and money problems some people have,” Vernius said. “[The infrastructure] is aging and crumbling beneath our feet.”
As for the hazardous waste score (D), the infrastructure report card states that 13 sites across the state are on the National Priorities List for hazardous waste. More than 3,000 entities generate hazardous waste in Kentucky and hundreds of old or abandoned waste sites continue to pose threats to the environment and public health.
The report card also says there’s no way these hazardous waste sites can achieve the goals set by Kentucky Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers because a projected $1.6 billion is needed in remedial costs to clean these sites up, but Kentucky only has an annual budget of $450,000.
Daviess County does not have a hazardous waste site, according to Robbie Hocker, solid waste manager at the West Daviess County Landfill.
“We’re not a hazardous waste landfill, we’re a municipal solid waste landfill,” Hocker said. “We’re not a hazardous waste landfill because we’re just not able to accept it. That type of landfill has special requirements.”