Bill Devotes $16.68 Billion to Improve Clean Water Infrastructure

Oct. 31, 2019

The mark up session on H.R. 1497 on Oct. 29 is set to improve storm water and wastewater infrastructure needs as the water industry’s workforce faces high rates of retirement.

The U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee recently approved and held a mark up session on H.R. 1497.

This is the Water Quality and Job Creation Act, according to Breaking News in Washington

The legislation aims for Congress to devote $16.68 billion over five years to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF), which provides low-interest wastewater and storm water infrastructure loans to utilities. The U.S. EPA estimates that communities will require almost $300 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs to remain in compliance with the Clean Water Act over the next 20 years, reported Breaking News in Washington.

H.R. 1497 would more than double the size of the CWSRF program, creating thousands of new jobs in construction and wastewater. The cost of constructing and maintaining that infrastructure would be reduced as well, promoting energy efficiency and water efficiency, according to the hearing

$1.125 billion is authorized for grants to municipalities to capture, treat, or reuse combined and sanitary sewer overflows or storm water, reported Breaking News in Washington. $1.295 billion will be allotted over five years for grants for state water pollution control programs.

The legislation also authorizes states to set aside 1% of their CWSRF funds to promote workforce development and utility worker training and education programs, according to the hearing. High rate of retirements and an aging workforce in the water industry are placing pressure on utilities to find the next generation of workers to replace them. 

The bill gives states and the EPA the authority to extend National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits to up to 10 years, which has been received with skepticism by some.  

“Despite these steps forward, H.R.1497 is not perfect. It would allow some sewage treatment plants to continue dumping at unacceptable pollution levels for ten years (permits are currently reviewed every five years)” said Bart Johnsen-Harris, clean water advocate for Environment America in a statement. "While the latest version of the bill puts limits on this provision, it is still likely to hinder the Clean Water Act’s aim of making our waterways safe and clean as soon as possible."

Another notable section of H.R 1497 directs the EPA to consideration the recommendations made in the WEF, NACWA and AWWA report on affordability.

“There is tremendous national need for increased funding and financing resources to help communities and utilities assess, repair, replace, and maintain the aging wastewater and stormwater infrastructure that protects public health and the environment” said WEF in a letter of support to the committee. “This legislation will provide a significant boost in resources to help tackle our national infrastructure needs, as well as make significant headway towards future challenges, such as climate change resilience and workforce shortages.”

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Cristina Tuser