by Maria Grant
More than eight years ago, millions of people watched the Flint water crisis on national television. An entire city was poisoned when decades of federal divestments in water infrastructure collided with a racist emergency management regime.
Fueled by the crisis in Flint, Food & Water Watch worked with our allies on a key piece of legislation in early 2016: the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability Act – the WATER Act. This month we reached an important milestone in this six-year campaign. Since its inception by Rep. Brenda Lawrence, Rep. Ro Khanna and Sen. Sanders, more than 100 Representatives and 6 Senators have now officially endorsed the WATER Act. With more than 550 supporting organizations, we continue to build support in Congress to pass the WATER Act as the defining 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 set up a trust fund to provide funds to meet the levels the EPA says we need to update and repair our public and domestic water systems. To that end, the law provides $35 billion annually to restore the country’s public water infrastructure, including:
- $15.2 billion per year to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to upgrade 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 fund modernization of public sewage systems;
- $1.1 billion a year to repair drinking water infrastructure in schools, including replacing lead pipes and fittings;
- $1.2 billion per year to support modernization and installation of household sewage treatment plants and wells;
- $1.4 billion per year to protect drinking water sources from pollution; and
- $349 million per year for technical assistance to rural, small-scale and indigenous sanitation and drinking water utilities.
The WATER Act will help prevent another Flint-like water crisis by restoring federal funding for clean water. And it will ensure local communities have the support they need to ensure everyone has access to clean water.
Deepening water crises
Many of the water and sewer lines beneath our streets were built in the years immediately after World War II. They are outdated and wear out. Since that era, we have learned of many new toxic chemicals that their treatment systems are not designed to remove. What’s more, they weren’t built for today’s climate reality.
For many, the signs of our aging water systems surface in the form of water breaks and sewer overflows. Every year we waste 2 trillion gallons of drinking water from hundreds of thousands of water pipes. And in a dire public health threat, more than 850 billion gallons of raw sewage is leaking into basements, homes, streets and waterways.
For some communities — disproportionately black and Indigenous and communities of color — the damage was more severe. 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 due to climate change.
The non-partisan infrastructure law fell short
When President Biden signed the bipartisan infrastructure package last year, it provided a down payment on our water improvements. But it falls far short of what our water systems and our communities desperately need.
According to the latest EPA assessments, our water systems will require investments of at least $744 billion over the next 20 years. That’s more than $35 billion a year — just to comply with existing federal laws.
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 bill cannot end support for funding clean and safe water for all.
We need a permanent water solution. We need the water law.
Tell your members of Congress to support the WATER Act today!