TESTIMONY OF THE
ASSOCIATION OF METROPOLITAN SEWERAGE AGENCIES
IN CELEBRATION OF THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY
OF THE CLEAN WATER ACT
October 8, 2002
SENATE ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE
Testimony of Paul Pinault
Executive Director, Narragansett Bay Commission
on behalf of the
Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies
Good morning Chairman Jeffords, Senator Smith, Members of the Committee, and distinguished guests. My name is Paul Pinault. I am Executive Director of the Narragansett Bay Commission in Providence, Rhode Island and President of the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies (AMSA).
It is an honor for me to be here today to represent AMSA’s membership of 280 publicly owned treatment works across the country. As environmental practitioners, we treat more than 18 billion gallons of wastewater each day and service the majority of the U.S. population.
The success of the Clean Water Act is due, in large part, to the hard work, ingenuity and dedication of local wastewater treatment officials. In fact, it has been 32 years since a group of public wastewater officials banded together and founded AMSA. From the early 1900s, municipal governments have provided the majority of financial support for water pollution control.
In the early days, cities financed and built collection systems that conveyed wastewater to primary treatment facilities. Eventually, outbreaks of cholera and typhoid and the decline of fish populations led to the passage of the 1948 Water Pollution Control Act and the first federal funding program that would help cities address the enormous challenge of treating billions of gallons of wastewater. Then, on June 22, 1969, Ohio’s Cuyahoga River became engulfed in flames, a sign that our country’s water quality was in crisis. The stray spark that ignited the oil and debris on the Cuyahoga also lit a fire under federal lawmakers to strengthen the federal water quality program. The result was the enactment of the Clean Water Act of 1972.
Mr. Chairman, America’s greatest water quality improvements were made during the 1970s and 1980s when Congress boldly authorized and funded the Construction Grants Program, providing more than $60 billion for the construction of publicly owned treatment plants, pumping stations, and collection and interceptor sewers. The Construction Grants Program was directly responsible for the improvement of water quality in thousands of rivers, lakes, and streams nationwide. As our waters once again became fishable and swimmable, recreation and tourism brought jobs and revenue to local economies.
Unfortunately, the federal commitment to fund continued water quality improvements declined drastically with the end of the grants program and the implementation of the1987 amendments to the Clean Water Act.
As federal funds dramatically declined in the 1990s, the complexities of our challenges and the costs of implementing regulations continued to rise exponentially. While we, as public agency officials, consider ourselves America’s true environmentalists who have cleaned-up and restored thousands of the nation’s waterbodies, our progress has been slowed by this decline in the federal financial commitment.
Over the past year, this Committee has received substantial testimony that has documented the coming funding crisis in the wastewater industry. As the measurable gap between projected clean water investment needs and current levels of spending continues to grow, local ratepayers will be unable to foot the bill for the costs associated with increasingly stringent requirements of the Clean Water Act. In a report entitled “The Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Gap Analysis” that was released last week, EPA estimated the 20 year gap for clean water could be as high as $442 billion.
At the Narragansett Bay Commission, an estimated $471 million is needed for the completion of current capital projects. Our average cash expenditures are expected to be $100 million annually. We anticipate receiving approximately $60 million a year from Rhode Island’s state revolving loan fund, leaving an annual funding ‘gap’ of $40 million.
Mr. Chairman, Senator Smith, and Members of the Committee . . . I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for working with AMSA this year on important legislation that would significantly increase the authorized levels of funding under the Clean Water Act.
Unfortunately, the world has changed significantly from when this process began with a series of hearings in 2001. At that time, AMSA had targeted the federal budget surplus as a logical source of funding to increase the federal investment in wastewater infrastructure. In light of our current budget deficit and the continued costs associated with our nation’s defense, we believe that the authorized levels of funding proposed in S. 1961 and S. 2813 would not be available to appropriators out of the general revenue fund for many years to come.
As a result, AMSA is exploring alternative, dedicated sources of revenue to fund future water quality improvements.
Our municipal wastewater treatment systems are critical pieces of national infrastructure and, as such, should be financed through a long-term, sustainable, and reliable source of federal funds. Although operating efficiencies and rate increases can provide some relief, they cannot and will not be able to fund the current backlog of capital replacement projects plus the treatment upgrades that will be required in the years to come.
Federal support for wastewater infrastructure is critical to safeguard the environmental progress made during the past 30 years under the Clean Water Act. As water pollution control solutions move beyond political jurisdictions to a broader watershed approach and as we address a wider array of pollutants and pollution sources, the national benefit of improved water quality will more than justify the larger federal contribution.
As we look to the future, we see that the challenges facing the leaders of today’s wastewater treatment agencies include polluted runoff from every source imaginable containing billions of pounds of soil, manure, fertilizer, farm and lawn chemicals, oil and grease, nutrient and toxic contaminants, and other pollutants. Nonpoint source pollution, along with the challenges posed by combined and sanitary sewer overflows and stormwater system discharges, are going to cost this country billions of dollars and take several decades to control. In a March 2002 interview with the Christian Science Monitor, EPA Administrator Christine Whitman said, “I think water is going to be the biggest environmental issue that we face for the 21st century in both quantity and quality.”
The “quality” part of that challenge, Mr. Chairman, will fall squarely on the shoulders of local wastewater treatment officials. As we strive together to make further progress under the Clean Water Act, it is imperative that we create a new federal funding program to finance today’s infrastructure needs as well as the innovative solutions that will be required to control future water quality problems.
On behalf of AMSA’s members, we look forward to working with you to solve these problems together. The bipartisan nature of this Committee over the 30 year history of the Clean Water Act has undoubtedly contributed to the Act’s success. Thank you for the opportunity to present our views to the Committee and we look forward to your participation in the celebration of the 30th anniversary of America’s Clean Water Act.