Water Infrastructure Bills
Senator James Jeffords
Feb. 26, 2002
The committee will come to order. Our hearing today will be a legislative hearing to examine 5 pieces of legislation involving water infrastructure. Of focus will be S. 1961, the Water Investment Act of 2002. Along with Senators Graham, Crapo, and Smith, I co-sponsored this legislation to provide additional resources to States, Tribes, and localities to meet water infrastructure needs. Simultaneously, it seeks to move the state of the art in water program management forward by increasing the flexibility offered to States in administering their water programs, ensuring that "next generation" of water quality issues receive the appropriate focus, and institutionalizing financial management capacity into our Nation īs water systems.
This legislation is critical to our Nation īs future. We tend to take clean water in our faucets and well-functioning, hidden sewage treatment systems for granted in this country. However, without vigilance, these luxuries can quickly disappear. The Water Investment Act of 2002 will help our communities be vigilant.
This legislation authorizes funding of over $20 billion over 5 years nationwide for clean water and $15 billion over 5 years nationwide for safe drinking water projects.
There is significant new flexibility attached to these funds.
Many of the provisions already authorized in the Safe Drinking Water Act which allow an extension of loan terms and more favorable loan terms (including principal forgiveness) for disadvantaged communities. In States such as my home State of Vermont, these types of provisions are critical as small communities struggle to meet water quality needs. There is financial accountability built into the Water Investment Act of 2002. We have included provisions for both the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act that are designed to help water utilities better manage their capital investments using asset management plans, rate structures that account for capital replacement costs, and other financial management techniques. We encourage utilities to seek innovative solutions by asking them to review options for consolidation, public-private partnerships, and low-impact technologies before proceeding with a project.
Whenever one mentions "consolidation", concerns are often raised about inadvertently providing incentives for excessive or uncontrolled growth. This legislation recognizes that concern and includes a provision that specifically requires States to ensure that water projects are coordinated with local land use plans, regional transportation improvement and long-range transportation plans, and state, regional and municipal watershed plans. As a package, this legislation will help ensure that utilities seek the most efficient organizational structure to meet their water quality needs.
I am also very pleased that the bill includes provisions ensuring that "next generation" of water quality issues receives the appropriate focus. As I worked on this legislation, I became aware that there are opportunities to use low-impact technologies to solve water quality issues that may or may not be considered by states and localities as they seek to solve water quality issues. In response, our bill includes several incentives for use of non-structural technologies. We specifically state in the statute that these approaches are eligible to receive funding under the Clean Water Act State Revolving Fund and require that recipients of funds consider the use of low-impact technologies. In addition, we authorize a demonstration program at $20 million per year over 5 years to promote innovations in technology and alternative approaches to water quality management and water supply. This program requires that a portion of the projects use low-impact development technologies.
The use of nontraditional technologies is the focus in the Water Investment Act to ensure that nonpoint source pollution receives appropriate emphasis under the Clean Water Act. The modifications this bill makes to the priority listing requirements in the Clean Water Act ensure that nonpoint source projects will be a part of the equation when funding decisions are made at the State level.
The bill also addresses eligibility issues. It clarifies that planning, design, and associated preconstruction costs are eligible for funds under the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act State Revolving Funds as stand-alone items. This ensures that small communities who may not have the resources available to get a project ready to go on their own can receive assistance. Small communities will also benefit from a provision in the bill that allows privately-owned wastewater facilities to access the Clean Water Act State Revolving Fund Already permitted under the Safe Drinking Water Act, this will allow small, privately-owned wastewater systems such as those located in trailer parks, to obtain much-needed financial assistance.
To ensure that both public and private small systems can actually develop the projects to solve problems, our legislation provides three main types of technical assistance for small communities. It authorizes $7 million per year over 5 years for technical assistance to small systems serving less than 3300 people located in a rural area. It reauthorizes the Small Public Water Systems Technology Assistance Centers for an additional $5 million per year over 5 years. Finally, it reauthorizes the Environmental Finance Centers for $1.5 million per year over 5 years.
We have heard from many organizations that public participation in the execution of the state revolving loan funds needs to be increased. I hope that every individual interested in how water quality projects are selected and prioritized in their States takes full advantage of existing opportunties for public participation. Our legislation takes action to ensure that there is ample opportunity for public comment when developing project priority lists and intended use plans.
I want to thank Senator Graham for his leadership on this legislation and Senators Crapo and Smith for their dedication to introducing a bi-partisan package today and their willingness to find a compromise when we needed one.
I recognize that this issue is of great importance to every Senator, and I look forward to working with each of you to pass this important legislation that is so important to our Nation īs water quality and drinking water safety.