Bill Would Set Aside $35 B Annually for Drinking, Wastewater
With the most recent drought, Californians are again having to reckon with an urgent water crisis. But water infrastructure is an issue across the nation (most notably in Flint, Michigan and most recently in Long Island, New York). Additionally, there have been health standard violations at other water systems across the country that impact more than 21 million people and the nation as a whole received a C- in the drinking-water category of the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2021 report card.
The federal Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act would increase funding for water infrastructure, setting aside $35 billion annually for drinking and wastewater systems. The time is now for politicians to stop talking about the need for infrastructure that would keep water clean and affordable, and work to get this important bill passed.
What is the WATER Act?
The WATER Act (S916 / HR 1352) was introduced in Congress in February 2021 by Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) and Rohit Khanna (D-CA), and in the House by Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT). It has been cosponsored by more than 80 members of Congress, and endorsed by more than 550 organizations who support a vision for universal access to safe and affordable drinking water.
This important bill will support public control of water systems and guard against catastrophic water shortages by prioritizing investments in historically marginalized communities, ensuring that water is safe, affordable, and accessible. It establishes a trust fund that may be used for specified grant programs and increases funding for water infrastructure, including funding for several programs related to controlling water pollution or protecting drinking water.
This includes replacement of lead service lines, upgrades to household wells and septic systems, and updates to infrastructure in public schools. It will also create up to nearly 1 million jobs across the country.
Why is it important?
America’s water infrastructure has lacked proper attention and investment for decades. Whether the issue is dangerous lead pipes, raw sewage, broken well pumps, or water main breaks, the bulk of this country’s water and wastewater systems is aged and unprepared for today’s demands and additional problems brought about by climate change. This includes disruptions (like when an Arctic freeze hit Texas) or supply shortages (when wells go dry in California).
“We have a water crisis in the United States that affects every corner of our country,” said Rep. Lawrence upon introducing the bill. “The longer we wait to act on this issue, the worse it will get for the health, well-being, and safety of the American people. Access to clean and safe drinking water is a basic human right.”
Rep. Lawrence told The Guardian, “I want to scream from the rooftop and shake America awake: safe, clean, affordable water is necessary to live – without it you will die.”
More than 500 advocacy, labor and faith-based organizations from almost every state support this bill. In California, Alexandra Nagy, the California director for Food & Water Watch, notes that the state has a “history of treating public water as a commodity and entrusting it to corporate interests that fail to manage it responsibly.”
Even as three-quarters of California is in extreme drought and private citizens are asked to reduce their water usage, “corporate interests are gulping our water at astonishing rates,” she says. For example, oil and gas drilling diverts water and pollutes what is returned to the ground, and mega-dairies use 142 million gallons of water every day.