Washington, D.C. – Amidst some of the most severe national water crises in decades, a comprehensive water justice bill was introduced in both chambers of Congress today with the intention of urgently addressing the critical state of water access, safety and affordability in the country. Known as the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act, the sweeping legislation was introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Congress Members Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) and Ro Khanna (D-CA). The bill is backed by 74 other original cosponsors (71 original cosponsors in the House and 3 in the Senate joined the lead sponsors) and 540 advocacy, labor and faith-based organizations from nearly every state.
“We have a water crisis in the United States that affects every corner of our country. You’re seeing it right now in Texas, and we’ve witnessed it here in Michigan as well. The longer we wait to act on this issue, the worse it will get for the health, well-being, and safety of the American people,” said Rep. Lawrence. “I’m proud to lead the fight with Rep. Khanna and Sen. Sanders to reintroduce the WATER Act and invest in our nation’s water infrastructure. Access to clean and safe drinking water is a basic human right.”
“Decades of federal underinvestment has left many communities, particularly low-income and minority neighborhoods, with leaky and contaminated water systems,” said Rep. Khanna. “It’s past time that we ensure everyone in this country has access to the most basic human need: clean drinking water. I’m proud to cosponsor this important legislation.”
Sen. Sanders stated:
“It is beyond belief that in 2021 American kids are being poisoned by tap water. It is critical that we work to improve our nation’s crumbling water infrastructure. Not only do we allow corporations to pollute our waterways, but the government has failed to keep up with critically needed improvements to our drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. We should not privatize water and wastewater services, which would drive up prices and reduce access to clean water. Instead, the federal government should make massive investments in water infrastructure, and that’s one of the issues I intend to focus on in the next round of budget reconciliation. We must support local communities in their work to carry out these necessary infrastructure improvements.”
Among other things, the WATER Act would: provide a $35 billion annual trust fund for urgently-needed drinking water and sewer infrastructure improvements; address pervasive water contamination related to lead and PFAS “forever chemicals”; direct grants to low-income communities to stem water shutoffs due to unaffordable bills; and create up to one million well-paying jobs per year.
From Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, a leading organizational supporter of the bill:
“From the plague of water shutoffs due to unaffordable bills during a pandemic, to the recent heartbreaking scenes across the South of frozen pipes leaving millions without water, it has become desperately clear that our country is in a water crisis. Grave crises require robust solutions, and this is just what the WATER Act provides. The WATER Act paves the way to rebuilding our failing water system by addressing maintenance and modernization, cleanliness and safety, affordability and social justice – all in one clean sweep. The time for Congress and the Biden administration to make this critical legislation a priority has very clearly come. Our country can’t wait any longer for a functional, safe and affordable water system for every community.”
“When you turn on your faucet at home or when your child takes a drink from the fountain at school, you should have peace of mind that the water is safe and toxin-free,” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders. “But for too many families and neighborhoods nationwide, even something as basic as clean drinking water is out of reach. Years of austerity measures and privatization schemes have eroded the infrastructure in poor, marginalized communities, exposing people to lead and other poisons. AFSCME thanks Sen. Sanders and Rep. Lawrence for providing the federal leadership we need to address this injustice, and we look forward to working with them to pass the WATER Act of 2021.”
In addition to Food & Water Action, the WATER Act is supported by 540 organizations including the NAACP, Earth Justice, Consumer Reports and the Partnership for Working Families, and labor groups including AFSCME, AFT, CWA, UAW and the Steelworkers.
“The federal disinvestment in our water systems has left communities like mine facing perpetual water woes. As our water department has had to raise funds for needed infrastructure upgrades through rate increases, Detroiters have endured skyrocketing bills, unaffordable rates, mass shutoffs, and tax sale foreclosures – and Black and Brown community members are facing the brunt of the burden, said Monica Lewis Patrick, President of We the People of Detroit. “Water is a human right, but our current water systems are a breeding ground for environmental racism and trauma. The WATER Act will overhaul our broken water system, fund our crumbling infrastructure, and ensure that everyone across the country can access affordable, safe drinking water. Our communities can’t wait any longer, Congress must act to pass the WATER Act.”
“The widespread water outages and boil orders across Texas due to last weeks’ polar storm is an urgent reminder that we must do more to ensure access to water. In my community of Houston, most of the water pipes in residential, mostly low income communities, froze, or bust. We were without water for four days, and I’m still working to restore water to many of my neighbors. Climate change is here – it’s a necessity for our government to think about the future and invest in our water, said Juan Parras, Director of T.E.J.A.S.. “The WATER Act would also deliver much needed support to the colonias, the small, rural communities across the U.S. Mexico border, many without plumbing. Water is necessary for life and dignity, so the federal government must ensure all families in all communities have access to accessible, affordable, safe water.”