On September 18, Congressman Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) introduced the ”Water Supply Cost Savings Act,” (H.R. 5659). This legislation is intended to help promote cost-effective local well-water systems by providing rural communities across the U.S. with important information on the use of water wells and water-well systems. To help small communities assessing their drinking water technology needs, the Savings Act establishes a Drinking Water Technology Clearinghouse where the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Secretary of Agriculture will provide information on cost-effective, innovative and alternative drinking water delivery systems, including systems that are supported by wells. For details on the proposed legislation, click here.
This legislation would undeniably help a portion of the more than 40,000 small communities with 3,300 or fewer people learn about the benefits, costs, and risks associated with well water system by encouraging them to consider less expensive drinking water systems supplied by wells. We applaud Congressman Stutzman’s passion for delivering clean water to rural areas, such as his Indiana district, by attempting to offer an alternative to expensive, universal water infrastructure systems. But it is clear that, while they can play an important role in the most rural areas of America, wells will not be feasible or preferred by rural localities. Well systems are less expensive to build than traditional underground infrastructure, but they also require more of the well owner. As opposed to centralized water treatment with a network of pipes, well systems must be maintained by the individual well owners to ensure the water quality, maintenance, and function. In effect this transfers the legal and financial responsibility away from the locality and onto the well owner. In areas where water systems can be shared, it is often much less expensive to spread the cost of maintenance, testing, and delivery than it is to undertake the responsibility as individual well owners.
What is clear is that more attention to the issue of small communities’ water infrastructure is needed. For those communities, the need for water infrastructure funding remains critical. More than 97 percent of the nation’s 157,000 public water systems serve fewer than 10,000 people, and more than 80 percent of these systems serve fewer than 500 people. Many small systems face unique challenges in providing reliable drinking water and wastewater services that meet federal and state standards. As a 2011 report issued by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers points out, rural areas suffer from numerous problems associated with their water infrastructure. First, aging infrastructure loses a great deal of water in transit, reducing availability and increasing cost. Second, water systems in rural communities have difficulty affording new technologies for the efficient allocation of water. And third, some rural areas lack access to clean, reliable drinking water. (Click here to see the CEA report.) Each of these findings point to the same solution: greater flexibility in the financing of water and wastewater systems. Attracting more funds for projects in rural areas – in the form of Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds and other financing tools – is more necessary than ever. CWC is constantly pushing for more of these funds – loans, grants and other financing mechanisms – for rural water and wastewater infrastructure. (See, for example, our July 30 blog, in which we discussed the creation of a new U.S. Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund through which private entities can invest in rural infrastructure projects across the United States.) Join us in our efforts to ensure that residents of all U.S. communities, large and small, have modern, efficient water treatment and delivery systems. Visit our website at http://www.cleanwatercouncil.org.