This week the Coalition is joining a nationwide effort to raise awareness for the urgent and growing need for greater investment in our critical infrastructure. The Healing Our Waters–Great Lakes Coalition urges the U.S. Congress to:

  • At least triple the funding for wastewater, drinking water, and stormwater infrastructure in rural, urban, and suburban communities through the Clean Water or Drinking Water State Revolving Funds and through new and innovative funding sources.
  • Ensure that infrastructure funding supports nature-based solutions that prevent problems before they become more serious and that enhance climate resilience. Funding should include a set-aside for projects that incorporate nature-based infrastructure.
  • Incorporate measures to ensure the affordability of clean water, such as providing more flexible financing options like grants for low-income communities; support for programs like those in last year’s the Low Income Sewer and Water Assistance Program Act that help low-income households pay their water bills; and provide incentives for utilities to adopt more equitable water and sewer rate structures.
  • Ensure that infrastructure legislation does not undermine or weaken environmental protections.

In the Great Lakes region, water infrastructure needs are staggering and continue to grow as we fail to act. Higher water rates, frequently the solution to covering infrastructure improvements at the local level, are forcing struggling communities to bear the full weight of financing expensive repairs and upgrades. This has led to increases in rates nation-wide, with families having seen (on average) a 41 percent increase in costs from 2010 to 2017. Some in the Great Lakes have seen even more dramatic increases as water and sewer prices in cities like Cleveland and Chicago have more than doubled between 2010 and 2018.

The cost of not fixing our water infrastructure is being borne by people in communities around the Great Lakes. Many are losing access to clean water due to groundwater pollution. Others are threatened by dangerous levels of lead and other contaminants in their drinking water. And too many are facing shutoffs, simply unable to pay the increasingly unaffordable rates, jeopardizing their health and the health of their children.

These unaffordable rates continue to rise due to the staggering need in our region to fix our aging infrastructure. The EPA has estimated that $179 billion is needed over the next 20 years in improvements, upgrades, and repairs to address the investment needs in the eight-states across the region. Aging systems have gone without repair for years due to a growing investment gap, a product of a significant drop in the federal governments share of funding. According to the U.S. Water Alliance, since 1977 the federal government’s share of total spending on water infrastructure dropped from 63 percent to 9 percent by 2014. Since then, states and communities have struggled to meet the growing burden.

Congress Must Act

The Coalition has been working hard with our partners and our Great Lakes champions to highlight these needs, and progress is being made. Earlier this year, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing to highlight the “cost of doing nothing” and the need for investment in infrastructure across the board. More recently the Committee’s chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio introduced H.R. 1497, the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act. We support the bill as it takes a first step in addressing the infrastructure backlog by more than doubling the current funding available to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. It also provides increased support for state pollution control agencies, watershed pilot projects, alternative water source pilot projects, and the Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grant program. The bill is still pending further action in the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and we urge the Committee to take the necessary steps for its passage.

Furthermore, this week has seen the House of Representatives take their first steps into the appropriations process to provide funds for the government’s operations in the next fiscal year. Initial indications suggest there is a great interest in acting on the growing infrastructure challenges and supporting our Great Lakes priorities. With current proposals calling for increasing funding levels for the Clean Water and the Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (by $116 million and $136 million respectively) and continuing to back Great Lakes recovery through the GLRI at $305 million (a $5 million increase) we support Congressional efforts to move these bills forward. Though these are important steps, much more is needed to address the infrastructure backlog and the impact polluted waterways and contaminated drinking water has on our communities, which is why Congress must act.

Sources used in this blog post:
Mack, E.A., and S. Wrase. “A Burgeoning Crisis? A Nationwide Assessment of the Geography of Water Affordability in the United States.” PLOS ONE. Jan 11, 2017.
U.S. Water Alliance. 2017. “An Equitable Water Future: A National Briefing Paper
U.S. E.P.A. 2016. “Clean Watersheds Needs Survey 2012: Report to Congress.” Pp. A-1 – A-2.
U.S. E.P.A. 2013. “Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment: Fifth Report to Congress.” P. 19.