Washington, D.C.— Today, Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced legislation to provide billions in dedicated funding a year to modernize U.S. water infrastructure. He was joined today at a press event on Capitol Hill by the national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch, a longtime supporter of increased water infrastructure funding. The Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act would create a dedicated, sustainable source of funding, distributed through the existing State Revolving Funds (SRFs), to update essential drinking water and sewer systems and replace aging, lead-ridden pipes.
The WATER Act is co-sponsored by Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), Rep, Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).
“Decades of underinvestment have made water a luxury for far too many,” said Congressman Conyers. “We have seen the repercussions of inaction in places like Flint and Washington, D.C. where children were poisoned by lead; and in Detroit, where decades of delayed maintenance have led to widespread water shutoffs. I introduced the WATER Act because our children, families and communities deserve access to clean, safe drinking water and that starts with making the proper investments in our critical water infrastructure.”
Since the 1980s, federal funding for water systems has declined. A unique analysis by Food & Water Watch found that, on a per capita basis, federal funding has declined 82 percent since its peak in 1977. The federal government spent $76.27 per person on water services in 1977, but by 2014 that support had fallen to $13.68 per person.
“From Flint, to Detroit, to Baltimore and beyond, households across the United States lack access to safe, clean, affordable water service,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “Whether water is poisoned, or the bills are unaffordable, much of the problem stems from aging, underfunded water infrastructure. The WATER Act is the most robust and comprehensive funding proposal for our water systems and would eliminate our long-term gap in water infrastructure funding.”
Most U.S. systems were built over 50 years ago, and are reaching the end of their lifespans. Failing service lines pose a danger to the environment, and wastewater overflows threaten public health. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that $697 billion is needed to upgrade our drinking water and wastewater systems over the next 20 years.
“My family and thousands of others in Flint, Michigan have been relying on bottled water for drinking, cooking and even bathing since Flint’s water infrastructure was damaged beyond repair over two years ago,” said Melissa Mays of Water You Fighting For? “No one should have to live without access to clean, affordable water. This important bill would help keep families across the U.S. safe.”
"AFSCME applauds Rep. Conyers for his steadfast work on making sure Flint and Detroit residents and working people across the U.S. have access to the safe water they deserve. The WATER Act is a great step toward achieving those basic needs, but even greater investments are needed in America’s infrastructure. AFSCME calls on Congressional leadership to act now. Budget austerity and privatization schemes underway across the country increase the likelihood of more local water challenges that cause extreme harm to our communities,” added Scott Frey, Federal Government Affairs Director of the American Federal of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Nationwide, over 6 million lead service lines deliver water to millions of people. Replacing them could cost up to $30 billion, and failure to replace lead pipes puts people at risk of lead poisoning. Overall, some 11,200 community water systems have lead service lines, some of which provide water to schools.
“We remember the water shutoffs in Detroit and Baltimore and the lead poisoning in Flint,” said Andrea Miller, Executive Director for People Demanding Action. It is time for the U.S. to commit federal funding for our water infrastructure to guarantee that we have safe and affordable water for every person; we cannot live without water, it is a human right. The WATER Act requires the EPA to study water affordability, discrimination and civil rights violations by water and sewer providers and water shutoffs. Additionally rural, small communities and tribal governments will receive increased technical assistance ensuring that their water is safe to drink. We applaud Rep. Conyers for this initiative to protect all our communities.”
The WATER Act would allow states to issue grants to replace lead service lines and would establish a School Drinking Water Improvement Grant program to provide funding to public primary and secondary schools that wish to test, repair, replace or install the infrastructure necessary for drinking water foundations or bottle filling stations.
"If there is anything that we learned from the Flint, Michigan water crisis, it is that we must improve and invest in our nation’s deteriorating water systems. Not only will this save lives, but it will create economic development by putting people back to work and, most importantly, enhance water safety and improve the water systems for local communities," said Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., President and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus.
“The WATER Act represents a win-win for the American people, and most specifically for the people and neighborhoods across our nation who are served and represented by the NAACP,” added Hilary Shelton, Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy. “Under the terms of the WATER Act, our decaying and too often, dangerous, public water infrastructure and contaminated water, which in turn affects Americans young and old, is addressed. The bill also is a job creator, creating between 700,000 and 945,000 new jobs in the very areas in which most need them. The NAACP would like to commend and thank Congressman Conyers for his leadership in this area and for introducing this crucial legislation.”
The WATER Act funds infrastructure projects by closing a loophole on offshore corporate profits. Currently, if a U.S. multinational corporation keeps profits offshore, it is exempt from paying taxes on them. The WATER Act would make these profits subject to U.S. tax in the year they are generated.
The bill would ensure that all funds would go to publicly owned water systems, rather than for-profit providers, and would create an estimated 700,000 to 945,000 new jobs.
“Thousands of households in Detroit have lost access to water service because many cannot afford to pay for this basic human right, said Maureen D. Taylor, State Chairperson of Michigan Welfare Rights Organization. “Without this critical water funding, water customers will have to shoulder the burden of costly rate hikes to address infrastructure improvements and many will be unable to do so, leading even more households to lose access to this essential resource.”
Additionally, the WATER Act creates a new grant program to help households install, repair, replace and upgrade septic tanks and drainage fields. The legislation also amends the existing Tribal grant program to increase the amount of assistance from 1.5 percent of Drinking Water SRF funds to 3 percent.
Food & Water Watch champions healthy food and clean water for all. We stand up to corporations that put profits before people, and advocate for a democracy that improves people’s lives and protects our environment.
Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-4905, [email protected]