Chairwoman Napolitano's Statement at Hearing on Wastewater Infrastructure
(WASHINGTON, DC) House Transportation and Infrastructure Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairwoman Grace F. Napolitano (D-El Monte) delivered the following opening statement during today’s hearing titled, “Building Back Better: The Urgent Need for Investment in America’s Wastewater Infrastructure:”
Today, our nation’s network of sewers, stormwater conveyances, and treatment facilities is aging, often outdated, and, in many places, not meeting the needs of our communities or water quality standards.
The American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave America’s wastewater infrastructure a grade of a D+ in its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, communities report a need of $271 billion of investment over the next 20 years to bring their wastewater treatment systems to a state of good repair. The need for sanitation infrastructure on tribal lands totals $2.78 billion.
Yet, these statistics only tell half the story.
As noted by our witnesses here today, many communities also face the challenge of ensuring that water and sewer utilities remain affordable to those living in the community.
As communities of all sizes seek to continuously improve the quality, safety, and reliability of their water utilities, we must give them a voice as they often struggle to also address challenges of declining rate bases, lower-income households, and other competing local needs.
All of these factors compel us to find ways to make water quality improvements more affordable to all our communities.
Congress has already taken significant steps to help meet this challenge. Through enactment of integrated planning legislation and the promotion of nature-based or green infrastructure alternatives to addressing local water quality challenges, we have provided tools to all communities to develop more cost-effective, long-term plans to meeting local water quality challenges. Getting the message directly to those involved is also a challenge.
However, more needs to be done.
We have to find ways to make sure the cost of Federal financing is affordable to all of our communities and get them to the table to access this financing.
One significant step that is long overdue is to reauthorize the Clean Water State Revolving Fund – a goal that has eluded this Congress for almost 30 years.
As witnesses note, this program is universally important to providing affordable financing to urban and rural communities alike, and its successes are typically limited only by a lack of available funding resources.
We are planning to soon re-introduce the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act to reauthorize the Clean Water SRF, and I urge all our members to support this effort to address local water quality challenges.
However, for those communities where a State Revolving Fund loan is still not enough to address local affordability needs, we need to ensure other tools are available. We need to fund targeted clean water grants, such as those authorized for combined, and, sanitary sewer overflows and stormwater capture, and reuse in the 2018 Water Resources Development Act.
Rural communities face a unique set of challenges. They tend to be small and do not have a rate base large enough to shoulder expensive, major infrastructure projects while maintaining affordable rates. Often, rural communities do not have the technical expertise necessary to design wastewater projects or even to complete the technical documents necessary to apply for funding.
In addition, rural communities may have to apply to multiple state or federal programs to obtain the assistance they need, and the duplicative application requirements can make it costly and time consuming to complete the application process. Last Congress, one of our witnesses told us about the unique challenges her rural community in Lowndes, Alabama faced – and still face today. We need to look at new and innovative ways to make progress on addressing the needs of our rural communities.
We also need explore whether the Federal government can play a long-term role in helping subsidize the cost of clean water for households in poverty, as we do today for household heating and cooling costs through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP. In the COVID relief package passed at the end of last Congress, we included $638 million in ratepayer assistance funds for families struggling to pay their water bills. We should look at whether or not this program should be continued on a permanent basis.
In addition, we should look at how we can improve upon existing water reuse and recycling programs to help those communities where water is a sparse commodity.
Before us, we have a distinguished panel of witnesses that can talk about real-world examples of where our network of clean water infrastructure works, where it does not, and where we can do better.
I urge all of our members to pay attention, listen to their stories and to reflect on the real challenges American families face, every day, in obtaining clean, safe, and affordable water and wastewater services.