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Aging water infrastructure could cost state billions to repair

Addressing water infrastructure concerns could cost billions over the next 20 years, leaving state and local officials to figure out where to get the money to make improvements to an aging system.

One possible source of revenue? Money set aside from the 2014 water and land conservation amendment. The constitutional amendment set aside one-third of money collected through real estate documentary stamps for conservation over the next 20 years.

And while many people focus on land acquisition when they discuss how to spend the dollars, Frank Bernardino, a consultant with Anfield Consulting, said water concerns should be factored into discussions about the billions of dollars the provision is expected to generate.

“Everybody in this room and everybody that works with everyone (in this room) knows we have a problem,” said Bernardino during the 2016 Associated Industries of Florida Water Forum. “As someone who is an advocate, I don’t have to go to any member to convince them we have issues. So why is it from year-to-year we make small progress toward the goal, but we don’t manage to get there.”

Bernardino said legislation that set aside money for Everglades restoration and springs was encouraging, but the state needs take aggressive steps to address infrastructure concerns.

“Everyone knows water infrastructure is a national crisis,” he said. “Everyone acknowledges this is a massive challenge.”

Bernardino said it could cost $48.7 billion over 20 years to deal with infrastructure issues. That includes an estimated $16.5 billion over the next two decades to maintain the state’s existing drinking water infrastructure.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 2015 it could cost as much as $1 trillion nationwide over the next 25 years to replace pipes, treatment plants and other infrastructure. That sum would also include expanding drinking water systems to deal with population growth.

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