Rep. Watson Coleman, Sen. Sanders Introduce WATER Act to Improve Water Safety, Affordability, Access

Published Mar 22, 2023

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Clean Water

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) each introduced the WATER Act, a comprehensive bill to expand access to clean, safe, and affordable drinking water. The Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability Act has 72 cosponsors across both chambers of Congress and is co-led in the House by Congressman Ro Khanna (CA-17).  

The WATER Act was first introduced in 2016. Its reintroduction comes amid a national water crisis. As weather-related disasters like droughts become more frequent and severe due to climate change, safe drinking water has become increasingly scarce and unaffordable. 

“Flint’s water crisis was not an isolated event, nor was Jackson, Mississippi’s. This is not an issue of any single municipality, but for our entire country. Due to a combination of climate change, outdated infrastructure, and systemic disinvestment in our most vulnerable communities, millions of Americans risk losing access to one of the most basic necessities for human life,” said Congresswoman Watson Coleman. “Access to safe, clean water is a human right. I’m reintroducing the WATER Act to protect that right. The American water crisis will only get worse if we fail to act. I urge all my colleagues in Congress, Democratic and Republican alike, to support this pro-humanity legislation and pass it without delay.” 

“It is beyond belief that in 2023 American kids are being poisoned by tap water,” said Sen. Sanders. “It is critical that we work to improve our nation’s crumbling water infrastructure. While the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act did make some progress towards that goal, we still have a great deal of work to do to make sure that we’re supporting our local communities as they carry out the necessary work to maintain and upgrade their drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. When people in the world’s richest country turn on their taps, the water that comes out should be clean.” 

“Clean, drinkable water is one of our most basic human rights,” said Congressman Khanna. “That’s why I’m proud to introduce this legislation with Representative Watson Coleman and Senator Sanders to prioritize human needs and ensure access to safe and clean water. We have to stand together to protect our water.” 

Among other provisions, the WATER Act takes steps to remove contaminants like lead and PFAS “forever chemicals,” directs grants to low-income communities to prevent water shutoffs due to unaffordable bills, and invests $35 billion into an annual trust fund for water and sewer infrastructure modernization. The legislation would also create well-paying jobs every year that would hire and train from the communities where the projects are located. 

The WATER Act is endorsed by over 500 non-governmental organizations.  

“When Congress and President Biden passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, they provided a modest down-payment on critical water improvements. But the investment falls far short of what our communities desperately need. The WATER Act is a responsible, comprehensive approach to repairing our failing water and sewer systems that would provide water justice to communities large and small for decades to come. America needs the WATER Act now,” said Food and Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. 

“The WATER Act would bring essential investments and much-needed new jobs to our water systems. This bill will provide workers – including countless AFSCME members – with the resources and reinforcements necessary to keep our drinking water safe. It’s precisely the type of legislation our communities require as they continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. And it builds on the already historic investments the Biden administration has made to repair and modernize our nation’s infrastructure. I applaud Senator Bernie Sanders and Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman and Ro Khanna for sponsoring this vital piece of legislation. We urge Congress to approve it without delay,” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders

“Ensuring access to adequate water infrastructure is an essential duty of the government in ensuring the human right to housing to all its residents, and an important step toward addressing the racial inequality in access to clean water. We, the People, are not asking Congress to pass the WATER Act as a charitable good act. We are demanding they pass it to meet their responsibility to their citizens and end the violations of the right to adequate housing that have gone on for too long,” said National Homelessness Law Center Legal Director Eric Tars.  

“Water is life and our communities in the desert depend on shared and clean, safe resources to sustain our lives and health from snow in the mountains in states east of us that offer that resource; but our warming planet is reducing that access. Toxics in our water tables from local industrial, military and air transportation hubs threaten the precious water that we do have; and the health of our marginalized, low-income communities, are at greater risk. Protecting our water requires a broad and inter-related approach to preserving life, health and sustainability of our communities everywhere,” said Barbara H. Warren, MD, MPH, E.D. of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Arizona Chapter. 

“Water is a human right. We must hear the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor by protecting what remains of sacred, life-sustaining water. Adequate water infrastructure requires dedicated annual funding, and the WATER Act turns our values into well-funded public policy. Given our climate emergency, now is the time to seriously right the wrongs of environmental racism through tangible actions, like passing the WATER Act,” said Waterspirit Public Policy and Justice Organizer Rachel Dawn Davis.  

“The WATER Act of 2023 is essential for Congress to pass this year. This Act would support Indigenous Communities with their safe water needs, would create a trust fund dedicated to drinking water projects all over the United States, would support additional disadvantaged communities, would address PFAS water contamination, would remove lead service lines, would improve school tap water, would use union labor and so much more. The WATER Act of 2023 must be passed into law this year,” said WESPAC Foundation Director Nada Khader.  

“River Network believes that all living beings share a common home and a fundamental right to clean water and that equitable and enduring solutions start with community – created with, by, and for the people most impacted. Funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides an initial investment in a broader vision for clean, safe, and affordable water for all by addressing critical water infrastructure needs. However, for communities to create enduring solutions that ensure equity in water access and safety nationwide, a lasting solution with federal government support is essential. We urge Congress to pass the WATER Act to provide long term and sustainable investment in access to clean, safe and affordable water in communities large and small,” said River Network Drinking Water Programs Director Sheyda Esnaashari.  

“White Level is a predominantly Black community in Mebane, NC, with a historic Indigenous population that has existed in tandem with the city of Mebane for generations. Ever since the Mill Creek Golf & Country Club was annexed into the city, it has received basic infrastructure including paved streets, water, sewer, and the right to vote while White Level has been red-lined out,” said Omega and Brenda Wilson of West End Revitalization Association.  

“I cannot emphasize how harmful water privatization is for marginalized communities. For 12,000 residents in Hornsby Bend/Austin Colony it’s meant high prices & frequent brown water because private companies don’t have an incentive to maintain or improve their water infrastructure; their goal is to create profit for their shareholders. It is critical that local governments have the funding and ability to buy out private water companies who are failing at their job and provide residents with clean water. This is just one example why the WATER Act is so important,” said Alexia Leclercq of PODER.  

“Everyone on this increasingly small planet earth has a right to clean water and air. That includes the many species that are dwindling at an increased rate every day. We must enact legislation coupled with real action to ensure that we ALL but especially the most vulnerable are ensured clean water (and air) It is not an easy task as polluting industries look to those communities who are the most vulnerable to locate. Our community experienced this and won against the big polluter! We are now on alert to look out for future polluters who do not live here or care who they harm,” said Chad Oba of Friends of Buckingham. 

“The WATER Act is key to modernizing America’s water infrastructure. Federal water infrastructure funding in the United States is severely lacking; approximately 82% was cut, per capita, between 1977 and 2014. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was a significant contribution to national water infrastructure initiatives, but more robust funding and grant programs are needed to protect our communities and water systems. Improvement of our national drinking water and wastewater systems will require hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 20 years for drainage and utility upgrades, lead service line replacement, PFAS reduction, and septic system and private well safety. The WATER Act will support our water treatment facilities by prioritizing allocation of Drinking Water State Revolving Fund dollars to publicly-run and small, locally-owned systems. It will promote affordable water services for all, expand grant programs for disadvantaged communities, and create additional technical support for small, rural, and Indigenous communities. The time to invest in America’s water infrastructure is now,” said representatives from The People’s Water Project.  

“Every single person has a fundamental right to safe water, regardless of where they live, what they look like, or how much money they make. Yet private water corporations do whatever they can to maximize their profits, even if it makes water too expensive or puts people’s well-being at risk. We need to invest in public water systems that will serve our communities, not corporate shareholders, for generations to come. The WATER Act is a critical part of getting us there,” said Water Campaign Corporate Accountability Director Neil Gupta.   

“Water is a fundamental human right, not a commodity to be sold for profit, and so must be protected for all people for all time. The WATER ACT of 2023 is key to protecting this right. It provides funds through Congress and the states to ensure that safe and affordable water and reliable service is provided to all municipalities and smaller communities. The WATER ACT funds are essential to enable desperately needed improvements of water infrastructure and to ensure that water utilities remain a public service, not privatized for private profit. Congress should hold hearings and pass this critically important legislation without delay,” said Nancy Price of Alliance for Democracy’s Water for All Campaign.  

“As people of faith, we support the WATER Act as a step towards making this human right of clean water a reality for all communities in equal and just measure,” said Metro NY Catholic Climate Movement Coordinator Nancy Lorence. 

“All people and our communities are intricately tied to the health of rivers, acequias and other waters. Historical and ongoing activities at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) threaten our cultural, spiritual and ecological survival. It is imperative to ensure the good health of watersheds downstream and downwind from LANL and the good health of the Río Grande and its tributaries to provide safe drinking water, clean water for irrigation and pure natural water for sacred ceremony now and in the future. Adequate funding by approving the WATER Act must be provided to clean up contamination at LANL to achieve these shared values,” said representatives from Communities for Clean Water. 

“As Laudato Si’ says, ‘our very bodies are made up of her (Earth’s) elements, …we receive life and refreshment from her waters.’ (LS2). Water is a sacred gift which nourishes and sustains humans and all life on our Common Home, Planet Earth. I support the Water Act for many reasons. One important reason is that all humans have the right to accessible, affordable, potable life-sustaining water free of toxins. Second is that people cannot drink the water from their own faucets. Aging water infrastructure and PFAS in our water are two major concerns that residents in the Hudson River bioregion are experiencing, the region where I live,” said Sister Carol De Angelo, Director of Office of Peace, Justice and Integrity of Creation at the Sisters of Charity of New York. 

“Water is crucial to the future of California and too many in our State don’t have access to affordable, clean, reliable water now. In a year when California HAS water, it is a good time to commit robust federal investment in public water infrastructure,” said Ginny Madsen for the members of First Wednesdays San Leandro, California. 

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Press Contact: Seth Gladstone [email protected]

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