In early February Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), John Duncan (R-TN), and Richard Hanna (R-NY) introduced legislation designed to create a new, deficit-neutral source of funding to states for the repair and replacement of clean water and drinking water facilities. The bill, called the Water Investment Trust Fund Act (WITFA), would create a voluntary labeling and contributory system that businesses who rely on a clean water source could opt into.
In introducing the bill, the lawmakers noted the dramatic disparity in the identified annual investment needs for clean water and drinking water, on one hand, and the amounts that Congress in recent years has in fact appropriated to address these needs on the other hand. This disparity, they pointed out, has resulted not just in tragedies like that unfolding in Flint, but in more than 240,000 water main breaks and overflowing combined sewer systems last year alone, resulting in contamination, massive property damage, water supply disruptions, and interruptions in school days and business operations in communities all over the country.
“Water infrastructure is a local issue – from a giant sinkhole in Gresham, Oregon, to poisoned water in Flint, Michigan,” Blumenauer said. “For too long, we’ve let critical water systems simply fall apart, just because it’s out of sight. The Water Infrastructure Trust Fund Act will provide needed revenue for states and local governments to make overdue investments in wastewater and drinking water infrastructure and will also take a hard look at the systemic challenges affecting access to safe water in low-income populations. Congress must do more, not only to meet the huge need for water infrastructure investments, but also to understand why failing infrastructure hits the most vulnerable communities the hardest.”
The bill would allow businesses to elect to place a small label on their products indicating their commitment to protecting America’s clean water, contributing $0.03 to a special fund – called the Water Infrastructure Trust Fund – for each unit bearing the label. The Trust Fund revenue would be distributed to the states as grants and loans through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to help public water systems finance wastewater and drinking water infrastructure projects. Significantly, the legislation should supplement, not replace, the State Revolving Fund appropriations. The legislation also commissions an EPA study on water affordability and safe water access in low-income populations.
We have written extensively about the huge water infrastructure funding gap that is undermining the health, security, and livelihoods of Americans in rural and urban communities all over the country, so we are encouraged to see the WITFA’s innovative approach to partly filling that gap. We will continue our efforts to see that this, and other inventive water infrastructure financing proposals, become law.