Washington, DC—The following is a statement from Michele Nellenbach, director of strategic initiatives at the Bipartisan Policy Center, on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works unanimously passing the Drinking Water Infrastructure of 2020 and America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020:
“We applaud the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, especially its chairman, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), and its ranking member, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), and their staffs for working together amid the COVID-19 pandemic to advance critical water infrastructure legislation. The Drinking Water Infrastructure Act and America’s Water Infrastructure Act, passed by the committee unanimously, reflect the urgent need to invest in our nation’s drinking and clean water infrastructure and, more broadly, what can be accomplished during these difficult times when both political parties endeavor to find common ground.”
While there are numerous provisions of note in both bills, several advance priorities BPC has previously identified and recommendations made by our infrastructure project. In particular, these bills will:
- Focus on the needs of underserved and rural communities. BPC has issued several reports related to water affordability and the needs of rural and low-income communities. Reflecting such concerns, these bills will launch a long-overdue study of homes without access to affordable drinking water, provide grants to states with a high number of underserved communities and water systems who voluntarily connect low-income homes to their system and assist smaller water systems with system management and maintenance through a new operational sustainability program.
- Increase infrastructure funding and technical assistance. BPC’s infrastructure project has called for the reauthorization of the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (CWSRF) and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Investment Act (WIFIA) program, both of which are included in the America’s Water Infrastructure Act. Importantly, this legislation requires that states use a greater portion of both the CWSRF and the Drinking Water SRF to provide more affordable negative interest loans to struggling utilities and to purchase or refinance municipal water system debt. Further, consistent with our calls for additional technical assistance to water systems, provisions in the bills would allow states to use up to 20% of DWSRF allocations and 2% of CWSRF allocations to provide technical assistance to systems.
- Promote water industry innovation. Unlike other utility sectors, there is a lack of R&D into water technologies. As such, BPC has called for the creation of an ARPA-W program to invest in water and wastewater sector R&D and advance the deployment of technologies that can improve service and reduce costs. While the committee stopped short of creating such a program, several provisions will greatly further these same aims.
Water and wastewater systems, many of which have halted service shut-offs for nonpayment, face plummeting revenues, and must keep their workforce healthy amid the COVID-19 pandemic, desperately need the resources these bills will provide to make critical infrastructure upgrades and ensure their lowest-income customers can afford water and sewer services. As such, we hope the Senate will quickly take up these bills and the House will soon follow suit.