Our nation's public water systems have provided reliable access to drinking water and safe disposal of wastewater for decades, yet a crisis looms. Some water lines are over a century old and may no longer be capable of delivering safe water to our homes, schools and businesses. Many systems have old lead and cast iron pipes that need to be replaced to ensure that Americans have access to safe public drinking water. The Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act would create a dedicated, sustainable source of funding to update our essential drinking water and sewer systems and replace aging and lead-ridden pipes.
It is essential that we reverse the current decline in federal funding. Congress passed the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act to ensure that our waterways are protected and that our drinking water is safe. However, since the 1980s, the federal government has cut back funding to communities for water infrastructure, with assistance falling to 30-year lows during the George W. Bush administration. Since its peak in 1977, federal funding for water infrastructure has been cut back by 74 percent in real dollars.
On a per capita basis, federal funding has declined 82 percent since its peak. In 1977, the federal government spent $76.27 per person (in 2014 dollars) on our water services but by 2014 that support had fallen to $13.68 per person.
At the same time, most of the water pipes under our streets were built at least half a century ago in the years immediately following World War II. Now, this infrastructure is wearing out and many water lines have already reached the end of their usefulness, with much of the rest expected to fall within the next few decades. This lack of investment in communities' water infrastructure poses a danger to the environment and threatens the safety of our drinking water for future generations.