When we hear the word “infrastructure,” our minds often tend to think of highways, roads and bridges. While that’s an important part of our nation’s infrastructure, an often-overlooked component is our drinking water delivery systems. Just as roads and bridges create stable communities and economies, so does safe, clean drinking water.
Drinking water is delivered to our homes, businesses and schools via one million miles of pipes, by both privately and publicly owned water systems. More than 51,000 community water systems scattered across the country treat 42 billion gallons of water that are used by Americans daily. Many of these pipes were laid in the early to mid-20th century with an estimated lifetime of 75 years to 100 years. In fact, some communities back in my home state of Oregon still rely on wood stave pipes.
While drinking water quality does remain high across the country, the recent crisis in Flint, Michigan, should serve as a stark reminder that more can, and should, be done so communities can effectively and efficiently pipe safe drinking water to peoples’ homes.
Just last Congress, then-President Barack Obama signed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WINN) Act into law. This important law authorized new funding for lead pipe replacement in disadvantaged communities and deployment of innovative technologies to keep tabs on the quality of the water we consume.
Instead of waiting to react to the next crisis, the Energy and Commerce Committee, which I chair, has been hard at work on legislation to ensure that Americans across the country have access to clean drinking water.
We have taken a thoughtful approach, working in a bipartisan manner on legislation to modernize our nation’s drinking water delivery systems for the 21st century, bring greater investment to the country’s aging drinking water infrastructure, and facilitate compliance of our federal drinking water standards
Through several hearings and markups, we received feedback from both public and private stakeholders as we carefully crafted this bipartisan legislation, H.R. 3387, the Drinking Water System Improvement Act.
H.R. 3387 authorizes $8 billion over five years for the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund Program — a federal-state partnership to help assist states in ensuring the quality of water Americans drink remains high. This legislation also opens the eligible uses of the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to cover costs associated with preconstruction activities and replacing or rehabilitating aging treatment, storage or distribution facilities.
Another important component of the bill is the provision creating a strategic plan to have an electronic system in place that would allow water utilities to send their compliance data to states, and states then to send the data to the Environmental Protection Agency. Doing this is an important step in ensuring the quality of our water and provides us with the tools we need to monitor water quality in real time. There’s also a provision in the bill that will help schools replace drinking water fountains that contain lead.
H.R. 3387, the Drinking Water System Improvement Act, unanimously passed the committee in July and is currently pending consideration on the House floor.
Just because we’ve had some success so far doesn’t mean our work is over. We will diligently continue our efforts with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this important infrastructure bill across the finish line.
That’s what has come to define this committee. While we may not agree on everything, we don’t let that keep us from getting things done that make our communities and their economies better. The fact of the matter is that everyone, regardless of where they live, should have access to safe, reliable drinking water and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish here at Energy and Commerce. I remain confident that we can get this measure through the full House of Representatives, through the Senate and to President Trump’s desk for his signature.
• Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon Republican, is Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.