Statement of Senator Baucus
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Hearing on S. 1961, the Water Investment Act, S. 252, S. 285
February 26, 2002
Thank you, Mr. Chairman for holding this important hearing today on the growing water and wastewater infrastructure needs in this country.† I would first like compliment our Chairman and Ranking Member, and Senators Graham and Crapo for working so diligently to produce a bi-partisan water investment bill, S. 1961, that we will hear about today.† This bill is an important first step in the process of dealing with the critical issue of how the federal government can best help local water systems provide clean and safe water for their communities.†
I have spent a lot of time with these issues in the past, particularly during the development of the Safe Drinking Water Amendments of 1996.† We worked hard to produce legislation that would relieve local water systems of unnecessary regulatory burdens, while ensuring that those water systems had the flexibility and the resources they needed to provide their customers with clean water.†
I worked hard to protect the interests of small and rural water systems in that bill.† Small systems cannot spread their costs of complying with state and federal regulations among a large number of ratepayers.† This dynamic hasnít changed, and I=m afraid it will become more of an issue as new regulations come online.† In my State of Montana, we have over 900 separate drinking water systems. Almost all of them serve fewer than 10,000 people.† Iíve been told some 60 to 70 percent of the water systems in Montana that receive funding through the Clean Water or Safe Drinking Water Revolving Loan Funds are considered small and/or disadvantaged communities.† Some of them, like the area around Three Forks, Montana, have significant problems with arsenic.
††††††††††† I want to make sure that, as we move forward with water investment legislation, these small systems will again be given the resources and the flexibility they need to protect public health and the environment, without being subject to unnecessary or undue regulatory burdens.† The operators of these systems are trying to provide a basic public service to their neighbors.† I don=t want us to fall into the trap that led us to the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments, where we unfortunately required systems, States, and the EPA to do way too much, to dilute their resources pursuing a lot of different efforts, instead of concentrating on the most egregious contaminants and problems, and focusing priorities on the what a system should be doing to make its water as pure as can be for the consumers. In a tight budget situation, this is even more important than ever.†
††††††††††† That said, I support the increased authorization levels in S. 1916 for both the Safe Drinking Water and the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Funds.† I think this Committee can send a strong message that clean water is a top priority, and that we in Congress must make the necessary investments in the nationís water and wastewater infrastructure to protect basic public health and environmental needs.† Few things are as important as clean and safe drinking water for our citizens.
††††††††††† I look forward to hearing the testimony of the witnesses today and working with my colleagues on this important legislation.† Thank you again Mr. Chairman.†