U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   04/08/2004
Statement of Paul Strauss
United States Senator (Shadow)
District of Columbia
Oversight of Drinking Water in D.C.

Subcommittee Chairman Crapo, Ranking Member Jeffords, and others on this subcommittee, as the elected United States Senator for the District of Columbia, and the father of two little girls, I would like to express my deepest concern about the safety of our region's drinking water. Because of the potential health problems for local residents, it is imperative that this issue is promptly addressed.

I particularly want to thank you Chairman Crapo, and Senator Jeffords for taking the time yesterday, to join me and my Mayor at a very moving meeting with local residents right here in the community. It was extraordinary that some of the most influential members of the U.S. Senate sat down in a living room with ordinary residents of the District of Columbia to hear their concerns. This gesture has set a productive tone for these hearings, and demonstrated a level of personal concern on your part, which makes me hopeful that meaningful solutions are truly on the way.

All too often the oversight efforts of the U.S. Senate relating to the District of Columbia's problems have had an anti-home rule sentiment. They tend to have a limited focus that examines only the failures of our local officials. This is not what this situation calls for. It is instead time for full cooperation and support to appropriately address this emerging problem. I want to emphasize that there is a need for real solutions, not finger pointing.

When it is appropriate to do so, D.C. residents are more than capable of criticizing the response of their own government. We do not need the assistance of Congress when it comes to complaining, we need your help to solve this problem. Gratuitous District bashing will not help, and neither will new restrictions on our local autonomy.

The DC Water and Sewer Authority has estimated that 23,000 homes have lead lines and more than 5,000 homes have water with lead levels exceeding the federal limit. As it is well known lead disrupts production of hemoglobin, which leads to anemia, can cause cognitive problems, affects kidneys, which can lead to hypertension and even renal failure. Lead is considered to be one of the top environmental health dangers for children 6 and under, due to the future health risks that can arise from its exposure. In pregnant women, lead crosses into the placenta and is absorbed by the fetus.

While the District's response to this problem has been far from perfect, the Mayor is quickly moving in a new direction. It is important to remember that the majority of these service lines were installed not by our elected home-rule government, but placed at a time when it was Congress itself that had actual control over the District of Columbia. A more significant reality is that DC is not unique when it comes to this problem. This is a national problem, a problem that we have to find real solutions for. The unfortunate truth is that the municipal drinking water in DC is probably not appreciably worse than the water in many other areas of the United States. It has been estimated that the costs for the needed improvements on a national level could exceed one trillion dollars. None of our States and localities can afford this kind of effort without Federal financial assistance. I urge the members of this committee to work with your colleagues on the Appropriation's committees to see that the resources needed will be made available.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the Subcommittee for holding this important hearing. I particularly would like to thank Senator Crapo for his commitment to leave this hearing record open, so that DC residents, despite their lack of equal representation in the US Senate can at least place written statements in the record. This will at a minimum permit their concerns to be documented and hopefully addressed. If you have not already done so, I would like to include with this statement, a petition signed by over 600 of my constituents who are urging actions this issue. My office intends to follow up with those other constituents of mine who wanted to attend today's hearing, but are not able to. Finally, I would like to thank Regina Szymanska and Paola Nava, of my staff for their assistance in preparing this statement. I look forward to further hearings on this topic, and I'm happy to respond to any requests for additional information that you or any member of this subcommittee may have.