Water InfrastructureVital to the health and well-being of our families and communities.
WATER INFRASTRUCTURE DIRECTLY AFFECTS OUR HEALTH. When it works properly, it provides us with safe drinking water and limits pollution in our local rivers and streams. On the other hand, when it falls into disrepair, it can lead to contamination that can make people sick.
A recent study found that more than 27 million Americans are served by water systems violating health-based standards established in the Safe Drinking Water Act. All too often, our water infrastructure is failing our communities—especially vulnerable populations, such as low-income communities and communities of color. Over time, infrastructure investments have closely followed the geography of wealth. As a result, higher-income areas enjoy high-quality infrastructure while low-income areas have suffered decades of underinvestment and disinvestment. People of color live in areas with higher rates of contaminated water, stormwater and wastewater overflows, and increased risks of flooding. This two-tiered system violates the American principles of equality and justice—and it has serious consequences for public health. The good news is that we know what needs to be done to solve our nation’s water infrastructure problems.
The bad news is that the plan proposed by President Trump is not the answer.
This paper will explain why America’s water infrastructure is failing and describe the impacts those failures can have on public health inl low-income communities and communities of color. It will propose policy solutions, developed and advocated by the Clean Water for All coalition, that can create a national water infrastructure that works for everyone. Finally, it will explain why the Trump administration’s infrastructure plan is fundamentally flawed and will not help the communities that need assistance and justice the most. With infrastructure prominent in the national conversation, this moment in time provides an opportunity to speak out against the administration’s inadequate and harmful proposals, and to fight for policies that will further our shared goal of clean water for all.
Read this great report from Coalition member NRDC about how states and the federal government can make better and more efficient use of the State Revolving Funds to address our critical water infrastructure needs.
Investments Critical to Ensuring Safe, Reliable, Affordable Clean Water
Water infrastructure is vital to the health and wellbeing of our families and communities.
But across the country, our drinking water and sewage systems are outdated and crumbling. Decades of underfunding and deferred maintenance of our water systems have pushed America to the brink of an infrastructure crisis. We must invest in upgrading our nation’s water infrastructure, and we need to prioritize equitable and sustainable solutions that prioritize communities in need and emphasize cost effective, natural approaches.
In many parts of the country, drinking water and sewage systems were built over a century ago, and are in desperate need of repair today. In its Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the nation’s dams a ‘D’ grade, and wastewater and drinking water systems a ‘D-,’ the lowest grades of any infrastructure category. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that the public health and environmental gains achieved since passage of the Clean Water Act are rapidly being reversed due to crumbling infrastructure.
We recommend focusing on the following themes regarding water infrastructure:
- Significantly increase funding for our nation’s wastewater, drinking water, and stormwater infrastructure by growing existing funding sources and developing new and innovative funding sources
- Ensure that infrastructure legislation requires, incentivizes, and supports resilient natural and nature-based solutions
- Incorporate measures to ensure affordability of clean water at both the consumer and community level
- Prioritize investment to address the greatest need
- Ensure that all current environment, health, and safety protections are retained and effectively and fully enforced
1. Significantly increase funding for our nation’s wastewater, drinking water, and stormwater infrastructure by growing existing funding sources and developing new and innovative funding sources.
The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that more than $650 billion must be invested in water infrastructure over the next twenty years to meet current environmental protection and public health needs ($384 billion for drinking water systems and $271 billion for sewage systems and stormwater). In order to meet these needs the federal government must increase its investment in drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure.
This includes creating new and innovative sources of water infrastructure funding while also increasing existing sources of funding such as the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds as well as the Water Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act funds.
Not only is investment in water infrastructure good for communities, it is good for our overall economy. According to the Economic Policy Institute, $188.4 billion spent on water infrastructure investments over five years would yield $265 billion in economic activity and create 1.9 million jobs. However, there must be an increase in overall environmental investments so as not to increase water infrastructure funding at the expense of other environmental programs.
2. Ensure that infrastructure legislation requires, incentivizes, and supports resilient natural and nature-based solutions.
Natural and nature-based solutions are alternatives to traditional grey infrastructure solutions and include such things as source water protection, protection and restoration of floodplains and fish and wildlife habitat, measures to increase water use efficiency, living shorelines, modifying or removing structures like levees and culverts to help restore natural hydrology, and green storm water infrastructure. For example nature-based solutions can mean planting trees and restoring wetlands rather than building a costly new water treatment plant, or choosing water efficiency and conservation instead of building a new water supply dam, or restoring floodplains instead of building taller levees. These solutions that protect, restore, and replicate natural systems and use water more efficiently have a wide range of social, economic, and environmental benefits.
For example, healthy wetlands and floodplains provide important protections from storms and floods in addition to providing vital fish and wildlife habitat. During Hurricane Sandy, wetlands prevented $625 million in flood damages in 12 coastal states and reduced damages by 20 percent to 30 percent in the four states with the greatest wetland coverage. The purchase of 12,000 acres of easements along the 45-mile Iowa River corridor saved local communities an estimated $7.6 million in flood damages as of 2009.
Communities across the country are proving that natural and nature-based solutions can solve their water resources needs while also saving money, growing the economy, and improving lives at the same time (see report Naturally Stronger attached). Any infrastructure legislation should prioritize the implementation of natural and nature-based solutions either on their own or integrated with traditional grey infrastructure as these solutions can transform and restore our environment, invigorate our economy, confront inequities, and ensure adaptability and reliability in the face of climate change.
3. Incorporate measures to ensure affordability of clean water at both the consumer and community level.
Communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by contaminated water that results from outdated, inadequate or failing infrastructure. This is due in part to the fact that rate payers in these communities cannot afford to have an increase in their water bills to pay for improvements to their water infrastructure systems. Access to safe, clean water and reliable wastewater and stormwater systems should not be a privilege for the few. No one should have to suffer from lead contamination, untreated sewage, or polluted runoff as these problems have severe impacts on the health, safety, and economies of our communities.
The federal government along with utilities and states need to ensure high caliber drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services are affordable to all by adopting and supporting low-income customer assistance programs and water conservation assistance as well as water affordability programs that include equitable rate structure and strategies that reduce system- wide capital and operating costs borne by all customers. Water equity matters – access to safe drinking water and reliable stormwater management and effective wastewater systems is a prerequisite for healthy, thriving communities, where everyone participates, prospers, and reaches their full potential.
4. Prioritize Investment to address the greatest need
Investments in infrastructure should be targeted to communities that have been shortchanged for far too long. Water infrastructure funding must be prioritized for communities that have critical infrastructure needs and lack the ability to meet those needs by raising rates or repaying funds from local sources. Infrastructure investments should be directed to water systems with the greatest water quality problems, based on a comprehensive review of available data and research.
5. Ensure that all current environment, health, and safety protections are retained and effectively and fully enforced
Effectively addressing our water infrastructure crisis requires the full suite of protections provided by the nation’s environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act. These long-standing environmental laws were passed with strong bi-partisan support out of the recognition that all Americans want and need clean water, clean air, and a healthy environment.
These laws enable us to look before we leap and identify the best and most environmentally- sustainable, long-term solution for our water infrastructure needs. For example, reviews under NEPA provide critical public and expert input and transparency that lead to better, more effective water resources projects and substantial savings for federal taxpayers. Such reviews give the public a critical say in projects that can have profound impacts on their lives and livelihoods. NEPA reviews do not delay projects that are in the public interest. Project delays are caused by poor planning, lack of interagency coordination, and long-standing funding constraints. Several Congressional Research Service reports conclude that lack of funding is the primary obstacle for project completion and has the greatest impact on project delivery timelines.
Our organizations strongly oppose all efforts to roll back, undermine, or eliminate the nation’s environmental, health, and safety protection laws. Such efforts will result in infrastructure projects that damage the healthy natural systems that drive our economy, protect our communities, and improve our lives.
Responding to the President’s Infrastructure Proposal
Find out what environmental, conservation, and equity-focused groups are saying about the President’s infrastructure proposal here.
- Letter to the Senate, RE: Trump’s Infrastructure Plan
- Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Guts Critical Water Safeguards
- Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Underinvests in Water
- What the Trump Infrastructure Plan Means for Clean Water
- Review of Trump Administration’s Infrastructure Legislative Outline
- Trump Infrastructure Proposal Could Devastate Public Lands