After highway infrastructure, the U.S. water and sewage system is the single biggest public works network in the country — and it is in trouble. Annual spending on the system falls tens of billions of dollars short of what is needed to maintain and expand it enough to keep up with population growth and stricter health and pollution standards, according to a draft report by the U.S. EPA. By 2019, the report says, the gap between actual and necessary investments in the water system is likely to exceed $650 billion. Despite the size of that figure and the vastness of the water network, the problem remains largely hidden from view, primarily because it is often manifested as thousands of separate local crises — from beach closings to boil-water alerts. The report predicts that the rate of such mini-crises will escalate, along with pipeline leaks and coastal sewage pollution. The report comes as Congress is working on bills that would significantly increase federal financing for water projects for the first time in many years.

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