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House Approves Funding for Clean Water Infrastructure Upgrades

WASHINGTON, DC, March 19, 2009) – A bill that will help bridge the multi-billion dollar annual gap between wastewater infrastructure needs and available funding is working its way through Congress.

The Water Quality Investment Act of 2009 (H.R. 1262), approved Friday by the House, renews the federal government’s commitment to clean water by authorizing $19.8 billion over the next five years for wastewater infrastructure and other efforts to improve water quality.

The centerpiece of this legislation is the authorization of $13.8 billion over five years for the Clean Water State Revolving Funds, the principal source of federal funding for meeting the nation’s wastewater infrastructure needs.

States would use such grants along with their own funds to make low-interest loans to communities and grants to Indian tribes to construct wastewater treatment facilities and related projects.

“Despite the obvious need for clean, potable water, federal funding for Clean Water SRFs has been dramatically cut in recent years, but that is about to change,” said Congressman James Oberstar of Minnesota, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

“Investing in our wastewater infrastructure is a critical priority, both for Congress and the Obama administration, that will have a significant beneficial impact on the quality of the nation’s waters and environment, as well as the protection of public health,” he said.

Near Rochester, New York, in a Great Lakes Area of Concern, the Maplewood Combined Sewage Overflow outfall is seen at left, and Eastman Kodak King’s Landing Wastewater Treatment Plant at right. (Photo by C. Knauf courtesy Monroe County Department of Health)

“This legislation needs to be enacted quickly not only to address the nation’s staggering water infrastructure needs, but also to provide economic relief to thousands of unemployed or underemployed workers, said Oberstar. “H.R. 1262 calls for the use of products and materials that have been manufactured in America, and it could create and sustain 680,000 jobs over the next five years.”

“This bill will help make it safer to swim in our nation’s lakes, streams and rivers,” said Nancy Stoner, co-director of the Water Program at the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Congress has taken a step to protect public health and improve quality of life, and, if properly funded, this bill could create hundreds of thousands of jobs that can’t be shipped overseas,” Stoner said. “By including green infrastructure solutions in the bill, the House is making it clear that we can no longer afford to waste water – our most precious resource – or threaten our communities and waterways with polluted stormwater.”

“Over the past several decades, we have made significant progress in the improving the quality of our water. Unfortunately, much of this progress is now at risk,” said Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Texas Democrat who chairs the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

“Today, approximately 40 percent of rivers, lakes, and coastal waters do not meet state water quality standards, and the problem is getting worse. Based on Environmental Protection Agency estimates, without significant additional investment in our nation’s system of wastewater infrastructure, discharges into U.S. waters could reach levels not seen since 1968 – four years before the enactment of the 1972 Clean Water Act.”

“Without significant investment now,” said Johnson, “this could have dire consequences for human health, aquatic ecosystems, and our overall quality of life.”

The legislation provides $2.5 billion over five years for grants to address combined sewer overflows and sanitary sewer overflows; provides $250 million for alternative water source projects; and provides $750 million over five years for remediation of contaminated sediments in the Great Lakes areas of concern.

The measure encourages green infrastructure or low-impact development approaches to wastewater treatment to take advantage of less expensive and more efficient natural processes.

Finally, the bill ensures that there is a preference for American steel, iron, and manufactured goods in the construction and repair of wastewater treatment systems with a “Buy America” provision.

The Senate is expected to begin consideration of its version of the bill in the next few weeks.

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