Mar 22 2017

Bipartisan Senators Introduce Water Infrastructure Bill

Legislation Would Keep Families Healthy and Safe; Provide Local Communities with Increased Flexibility to Manage Wastewater and Storm Water Projects

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), along with Senators John Boozman (R-Ark.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), have introduced the Water Infrastructure Flexibility Act. The bipartisan legislation would provide local communities with increased flexibility when complying with Clean Water Act requirements for updates to water infrastructure projects. The bill would also give communities more autonomy as they prioritize and plan for wastewater and storm water investments.  

“Improvements to water infrastructure help keep Americans healthy and safe. But as local communities work to comply with burdensome EPA mandates, costs are ultimately passed on to families through higher utility bills. The city of Omaha knows this well. This bipartisan legislation would give cities and local communities more control and flexibility as they manage infrastructure updates. It would also allow them to prioritize projects in an effective manner,” said Senator Fischer.

“Wastewater infrastructure improvements support local jobs and keep our water clean and safe to drink. It’s critical we support Ohio communities as they work to update these systems and give them the flexibility to get projects done based on unique community needs,”
said Senator Brown.

“Americans have a right to expect that water coming from their taps is safe to drink and that Congress will do everything within its power to ensure that happens at a reasonable cost to consumers. Every community in America — urban, rural and suburban neighborhoods — will be helped by this bipartisan effort to improve our nation’s water infrastructure,” said Senator Cardin.

“Water infrastructure development and maintenance is important to public health and safety. As communities meet the needs of their population and address aging infrastructure, they must have the flexibility to do so while not passing along the increased costs of utilities to families and businesses. This bill is a commonsense measure to help cities comply with federal environmental laws,” said Senator Boozman.

“According to the Environmental Protection Agency, most of the water infrastructure in this country is more than 50 years old. Local communities are working to upgrade our aging water infrastructure systems, but too often struggle with the costs of inflexible government mandates, and families are forced to pay higher utility bills as a result. Our legislation would give local communities more flexibility in complying with these mandates and encourage the EPA to work with them in developing innovative and cost-effective ways to upgrade our water infrastructure so it’s healthy and safe for all Ohioans,” said Senator Portman.

“Integrated planning is important as communities in Missouri struggle with limited resources to address their environmental compliance needs. I am pleased to cosponsor this bill, which builds on my efforts regarding community affordability and integrated planning and will provide flexibility to communities for their investments in wastewater and stormwater projects,” said Senator Blunt.

“Many of our communities are struggling with aging water infrastructure as they work to provide safe and reliable water and sewer service. This bill will help these communities prioritize investments in their water systems and expand the use of cost-effective green infrastructure in order to meet important EPA safeguards,” said Senator Booker.

Many state and local governments face difficulties meeting Clean Water Act requirements for storm water and wastewater updates. The U.S. Conference of Mayors found, on average, municipalities spend between 6 to 7 cents of every tax dollar on water and sewer systems. This makes water infrastructure the third-largest expense for cities, after education and emergency personnel.

For example, in 2014, the city council in Omaha, Nebraska, approved a sewer rate increase of approximately 45 percent over several years. At the time, the Omaha World-Herald reported the following:

“Marty Grate, the city’s environmental services manager, said the city has few options for dealing with the federal environmental regulations. Omaha is one of more than 700 cities that have been ordered to modernize their sewer systems to keep rivers and streams cleaner.” 

The Water Infrastructure Flexibility Act would:

  • Provide communities with flexibility to prioritize investments in wastewater and storm water projects needed for CWA compliance.
  • Establish an Office of Municipal Ombudsman at EPA to assist cities in complying with federal environmental laws.
  • Compel the EPA to promote "green infrastructure," which uses or mimics natural processes to infiltrate or reuse storm water runoff beneficially on-site where it is generated.
  • Require the EPA to update this guidance and expand the criteria for determining affordability and revise its guidance for affordability measures.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, and the National League of Cities have endorsed the legislation. Click here to read the letter of support from these organizations.

Click here to read the text of the Water Infrastructure Flexibility Act. 


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