CLEAN AND SAFE WATER
Polluted water can cause serious and costly health issues, and environmental justice communities across the U.S. are disproportionately affected by water contamination and failing water infrastructure. During the COVID-19 pandemic too many people in lower income communities, Black communities, Tribal communities, and other people of color, have either had their water service disconnected or never had reliable clean water in the first place. At the same time climate change is disrupting our water systems: fresh water will become more scarce (droughts, lack of snowpack, and over-pumping of aquifers), overly abundant (storms and flooding) and more polluted than ever before. The unfinished business of reducing pollution into waters of the U.S. leaves this resource vulnerable and new information on everyday chemicals continues to demonstrate that they are more dangerous to our water supplies and public health than we knew. Investing in building clean and safe water infrastructure is critical to an equitable recovery and creates high-quality jobs while building strong, resilient communities.
Specific Policy Proposals:
Repair Clean Water Infrastructure. Ensuring that all communities have affordable, reliable, and sustainable access to safe drinking water and appropriate wastewater and stormwater treatment and disposal must be a top priority. Our public water systems and communities of all sizes are grappling with the need for water infrastructure maintenance or improvements while rising rates are making basic drinking water and wastewater service unaffordable for low income consumers across the country. For communities and business to thrive, Congress must invest in and fix our decades old crumbling water infrastructure. By spurring development of good paying union jobs, focusing particularly on efforts to expand job opportunities in environmental justice communities, we can ensure all communities not only have clean water but a thriving economy as well. Congress should invest $10 billion a year for both the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, with at least 20% set aside for disadvantaged communities and 20% for green infrastructure, as well as a one time investment of $100 billion to begin making progress on our huge water infrastructure backlog.
Protect our Children From Toxic Lead. Every child deserves to drink clean water and be protected from the damaging consequences of toxic lead pollution. Unfortunately, more than nine million homes are serviced by lead service lines in the U.S. Further, a recent report from the Harvard School of Public Health shows that millions of children are drinking lead in the water at school. Congress must provide $45 billion over 10 years for the Reducing Lead in Drinking Water program to provide grants and technical assistance for completely replacing lead service lines in households, daycare centers, and schools. Congress must also provide $1 billion over 5 years for the School Lead in Drinking Water Program to provide filters and retrofit or update schools to ensure all school children have access to clean, lead-free water.
Protect Communities from Sewage and Stormwater Overflow. It is unacceptable that in 2020, too many communities, particularly low income communities and communities of color, lack adequate sewage and stormwater infrastructure. As climate change warms the atmosphere, it is altering the hydrologic cycle, changing the amount, timing, form, and intensity of precipitation. Unfortunately, our water infrastructure was not built with these changes in mind, which threaten our water quality, public health, and safety. Congress must proactively address our aging water infrastructure and prioritize programs that benefit environmental justice communities that lack and cannot afford to pay for necessary water infrastructure upgrades. Funding the Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal Control grant program at $225 million per year would provide crucial cost-sharing to pay for important infrastructure to manage sewer overflow and stormwater, improving public health, creating jobs and helping communities thrive.
Ensure Rural Communities Have Clean Water. Congress must make significant infrastructure investments that ensure all of our communities are provided with clean water, including rural areas who are in desperate need of updated systems. The USDA’s Water & Waste Disposal Loan & Grant Program is designed to help rural communities (targeting areas with populations of 10,000 or less, tribal lands and underserved communities) who tend to lack the necessary funding to invest in better sewage systems. Congress must provide $1.75 billion per year, including $750 million in grants, to ensure rural communities have access to clean water, bolster public health, and can grow and prosper.
Stop Sewage from Entering our Waterways. Aging pipes discharge 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage into U.S. waterways annually. Significant portions of many municipal systems are now approaching 40 to 50 years in age. Congress must invest in updating our wastewater infrastructure to prevent this unchecked pollution, especially in underserved communities that are the most at risk, including low-income communities, communities of color, and rural communities. To prevent untreated sewage from damaging our waterways, Congress must fund the Decentralized Wastewater Grant Program with $750 million per year.
Secure Safe Drinking Water for Underserved Communities. All families and individuals have a basic human right to clean water, yet many low income communities and communities of color cannot trust that their water is safe. Securing safe drinking water for underserved communities must be a top priority. Congress should make targeted investments in the Small & Disadvantaged Communities Program ($60 million per year), Alaska Native Villages & Rural Communities Program ($120 million per year), and the US-Mexico Border Water Infrastructure Program ($100 million per year) to improve access to clean water in some of the communities who have been denied it for far too long.
Support the Low-Income Households Drinking Water and Wastewater Assistance Program. We urge Congress to enact protections to prevent residential water shutoffs and mandate safe reconnections of households previously disconnected. Congress should provide at least $3 billion in immediate funding for a Low-Income Households Drinking Water and Wastewater Assistance Program to ensure households stay connected to essential water and sanitation services.
Invest in the Water Infrastructure Workforce Development Program. Water infrastructure jobs are high paying and located across the country. A coordinated water infrastructure workforce development program will create a pipeline to new job opportunities in communities that need them most, and bolster our vital water systems — which are in urgent need of repair, maintenance, and upgrades. Congress must fund this program with $5 million per year for at least 10 years. By specifically targeting job training opportunities in low-income communities and communities of color, we can provide high-quality, family-sustaining careers, help communities suffering from a lack of investment and job opportunities, and support a sector that desperately needs new workers.
LINKS TO RESOURCES
Clean Water for All Coalition Water Stimulus Letter:
The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) concluded that every $1 billion provided for water and wastewater infrastructure projects creates between 20,000 and 27,000 jobs and an economic ripple effect that adds between $2.87 and $3.46 billion to the economy.
A combined $1.5 billion annual investment over 5 years in these programs: School Drinking Fountain Replacement program, Sewer Overflow Control Grants program, Alaska Native Villages and Rural Communities Water Grant program, U.S.-Mexico Border Water Infrastructure program, and Small & Disadvantaged Communities program. In each year, this would create 7,074 direct jobs and 19,415 total jobs.
Brookings Report Renewing the Water Workforce: Improving water infrastructure and creating a pipeline to opportunity
BlueGreen Alliance’s Clean Water, Good Jobs Policy Brief
USDA Rural Development’s Water & Waste Disposal Loan & Grant Program