Sewers bankrupt a county in Alabama
December 14, 2011

Jefferson County in Alabama has declared bankruptcy due to a $4.2 billion debt they can't repay. Most of that debt ($3.14 billion) was incurred by the sewer system. It's by far the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history. Jefferson County is certainly not the only municipal government in financial trouble right now, but it's hard not to see the problem there and wonder about the future for many other places. Services like sewer systems are a necessary part of most municipal budgets, and they require occasional but often very large expenditures. There's been a lot of maintenance that has been deferred over the years, particularly as systems built across America around the time of the Clean Water Act have reached the end of their expected service lives. The gap between the anticipated costs of infrastructure repairs and reinvestment and the amounts customers have been willing to spend thus far is a large one.

December 2011
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last revised December 2011