Senate Committee Advances Critical Effort to Invest in Water Infrastructure

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
May 06 2020 |
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The legislation also ensures that drinking water systems and infrastructure will be American-made.

We have a bit of good news to report from Capitol Hill.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday unanimously advanced bipartisan legislation to invest billions of dollars in America’s water infrastructure.

Critically, the legislation includes permanent Buy America provisions to ensure that this taxpayer-funded infrastructure will be Made in America, rather than sent overseas to countries like China.

The committee passed two bills, which now head to the Senate floor for consideration. America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 allocates $17 billion to water infrastructure projects like dams, ports, and reservoirs. Meanwhile, the Drinking Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 provides $2.5 billion in funding to provide communities with resources to meet their drinking water needs.

There is an incredible need to make improvements to U.S. water infrastructure – the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s drinking water systems and inland waterways a “D” grade back in 2017, while wastewater systems managed to earn a D+.

But now water utilities are facing a new set of challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The American Water Works Association and Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies estimated in a new report that the crisis will cost drinking water utilities $13.9 billion and lead to a delay or reduction of about $5 billion in capital expenditures. That could cost between 75,000 and 90,000 jobs and a loss of $32.7 billion in economic activity.

That’s not all, either. The National Association of Clean Water Agencies said in a statement that because of the sudden drop-off in business and industrial water demand, coupled with the fact that many households won’t be able to pay their water bills, clean water utilities will face funding shortfalls of $12.5 billion.

The legislation advanced by the Senate committee on Wednesday will help alleviate some of the financial pressure water utilities and agencies are facing, along with providing funding for much-needed improvements to drinking water systems and other critical water infrastructure.

And by making Buy America provisions permanent, lawmakers will ensure that we double-down on this taxpayer-funded investment, putting money right back into American workers and local communities during a time when so many people are facing layoffs and other life-altering financial challenges.

Congress would be wise to pass these two bills as quickly as possible – and then get to work on a robust infrastructure investment package to rebuild other critical infrastructure, from bridges to airports to roads to pipelines to schools to the electric grid and more.

Doing this would literally lay the groundwork for an economic recovery, creating millions of new jobs and providing a desperately needed boost to an economy facing a once-in-a-century crisis.