Environment and Public Works Committee
Oversight Hearing on Public Health and Drinking Water Issues
February 2, 2011
Senator Benjamin L. Cardin
Madam Chairman, I want to thank you for holding this critical hearing on drinking water issues.
Marylanders and all Americans deserve clean, safe water for themselves and their families. And for many years, in the wake of seminal laws like the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, many of us took for granted that the water coming out of our taps was safe for us to drink. But whether it’s news that contaminants like chromium-6 or endocrine disruptors have been found in our water, or new science that says known contaminants are dangerous at lower levels than we thought, or water-boil alerts going out in the wake of water main breaks, we’re getting lots of information that’s hard to interpret and makes us wonder whether our water is really safe.
That is why I am so glad we have an Environmental Protection Agency whose job it is under the Safe Drinking Water Act to study chemicals and compounds in our drinking water, decide what is safe and what isn’t, and set standards for treatment that protect our health. It’s a job the agency did today when it reversed a Bush-era decision and announced that it will set a standard for perchlorate, a chemical that we know impairs brain development in fetuses and young children.
I feel better and I think my constituents feel better knowing that we can turn to Administrator Jackson, a fierce protector of public health and the environment and ask, what does it mean that the Environmental Working Group found chromium-6 in tap water in Bethesda Maryland? And what should we do about it? We know that not only is it her job to tell us, but she has and the staff of the agency have the scientific knowledge and skills to give us the answer or work to find one.
But the 400,000 Marylanders in Prince Georges County that spent much of last week boiling their water know this: keeping dangerous chemicals out of our water is not enough to make it safe. For high quality water, we need high quality water infrastructure.
On Monday of last week, a major water main break in Prince George’s County not only destroyed cars and caused serious damage to a local business park (see picture), it shut down a portion of the Capital Beltway, it disrupted regular work at the Census Bureau headquarters and Andrews Air Force Base, it shut down local businesses and schools, and it required 400,000 residents to boil their water to ensure its safety. A task I am sure was made harder when snow storms cut power to residents across the county.
We’ve had other dramatic breaks in Maryland in recent years. We saw River Road in Bethesda turned into a literal river requiring motorists be rescued by helicopters and boats (see picture). In October 2009, a thousand basements in Dundalk Maryland were under water (see picture). In March, 2010 thousands more homes and businesses along a major thoroughfare in Baltimore County were left without water.
These scenes play out nearly 700 times each day in communities around this nation with the attendant impacts to water quality and to local economies. The costs incurred by these breaks aren’t limited to repairing infrastructure, which in the case of the Price Georges County break Jerry Johnson of WSSC estimates at over 1 million dollars.
It’s the cost of repairing the businesses and replacing the cars where the break occurred, it’s the cost of the emergency responders, it’s a lost day of business, it’s the lost day of learning for our children, it’s the loss of a service businesses rank as second most critical after electricity.
The major water main breaks that have become near epidemic in our region and elsewhere tell us that major parts of the system are too old and too frail to hold together much longer. The breaks are more than an inconvenience, they also can endanger the health and safety of our citizens as well as disrupt economic activity and our national security.
These episodes demonstrate what our nation’s engineers tell us is true: our water infrastructure grades a “D-“. It’s in dire straits and is in desperate need of new attention and greater investment. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than $340 billion will be needed over the next 20 years to meet the nation’s drinking water infrastructure needs.
We also know that an increased investment in infrastructure has benefits beyond the quality of our water, additional benefits that are particularly important in these economic times. With investment in water infrastructure we can create thousands of new, desperately needed jobs.
Infrastructure investment in water systems has one of the highest job creation potentials when compared across other broad categories of public infrastructure investment.
Over the long-term, the U.S. Conference of Mayors found every job building or maintaining water and sewer infrastructure creates over 3 additional jobs in the national economy to support that job.
For these reasons I’ve asked the President to include water in his six-year plan for infrastructure investment. While water mains are less visible than roads and bridges, they are just as important to our economy and in equally desperate need of repair And it’s why as Chairman of the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, I will have no higher priority than the reauthorization of the Water Infrastructure Financing Act. I look forward to working with Administrator Jackson, Chairman Boxer, Senator Inhofe and my colleagues here to make greater investment in water infrastructure a reality.
Thanks again, Madame Chairman for holding this important hearing and I look forward to today’s testimony.