by Mary Grant
More than eight years ago, millions of people watched the Flint water crisis unfold on national television. An entire city was poisoned when decades of federal divestment from water infrastructure collided with a racist emergency management regime.
In early 2016, spurred by the crisis in Flint, Food & Water Watch worked with our allies on a critical piece of legislation: The Water Accessibility, Transparency, Fairness, and Reliability Act – the on the water. This month, we reached an important milestone in this six-year campaign. Since being introduced by Rep. Brenda Lawrence, Rep. Ro Khanna and Senator Sanders, over 100 Reps and 6 Senators now officially support the UAE Act. With more than 550 organizations supporting us, we continue to build support in Congress to pass the WATER Act as the landmark water law of the 21st century.
A permanent water solution
The WATER Act is the only comprehensive approach to improving our drinking water and sanitation systems. It will create a trust fund to provide funds to reach the level the EPA says we need to update and repair our public and domestic water systems. To do this, the act will provide $35 billion a year to restore the nation’s public water infrastructure, including:
- $15.2 billion annually to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to modernize and improve public drinking water systems (including removing lead pipes and treating PFAS contamination);
- $15.7 billion a year to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to pay for public sewer system improvements;
- $1.1 billion a year to repair drinking water infrastructure in schools, including replacing lead pipes and fixtures;
- $1.2 billion a year to help update and install septic tanks and household wells;
- $1.4 billion a year to protect drinking water sources from pollution; and
- $349 million per year for technical assistance to rural, small and indigenous wastewater and drinking water providers.
The Water Act will help prevent another water crisis like Flint by restoring federal funding for clean water. And it will ensure that local communities have the support they need to provide everyone with access to clean water.
Aggravation of water crises
Many of the water and sewer lines under our streets were built in the years immediately following World War II. They are outdated and worn out. Since that time, we have discovered many new toxic chemicals that their treatment systems are not designed to remove. Plus, they weren’t built for today’s climate reality.
For many, the signs of our aging water systems are surfacing in the form of water breaks and sewer overflows. Every year, we waste 2 trillion gallons of drinking water due to hundreds of thousands of water main breaks. And in a serious threat to public health, more than 850 billion gallons of raw sewage is pouring into basements, homes, roads and waterways.
For some communities — primarily black and indigenous communities and communities of color — the harm has gone deeper. Communities like Flint and Benton Harbor, Michigan are facing toxic lead poisoning, while communities like Jackson, Mississippi and Puerto Rico have faced catastrophic system failures fueled by climate change.
Bipartisan infrastructure law failed
When President Biden signed into law the bipartisan infrastructure package last year, he provided a down payment on our water improvements. But it falls far short of meeting the desperate needs of our water systems and communities.
According to the latest EPA estimates, our water systems will require at least $744 billion in investment over the next 20 years. That’s over $35 billion a year – just to comply with existing federal law.
The bipartisan Infrastructure Act provided only 7% of the funding our communities need to meet existing water quality standards. Congress needs to hear that the bipartisan Infrastructure Act cannot be the end of support to fund clean, safe water for all.
We need a permanent water solution. We need the WATER law.
Tell your congressmen to co-sponsor the Water Act today!