Washington, D.C.—Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, today welcomed Gene Whatley, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Rural Water Association before the EPW Committee. The Oklahoma Rural Water Association represents 458 member rural water districts and small community water systems, which serve over 800,000 people in rural Oklahoma. The majority of its members are small to very small systems, with the average system serving approximately 700 connections.
“I am pleased to have Oklahoma Rural Water Association Executive Director Gene Whatley before the EPW Committee,” Senator Inhofe said. “Gene understands the problems facing small drinking water systems in Oklahoma and across the country, and I appreciate his testimony on how small systems are coping with federal regulations.”
“Many of the rules are complex and very difficult to understand and implement for both the water systems and the state regulatory agencies. This is a significant problem for small systems that do not have experienced, full time operators. Many of the small systems operators do not understand the regulations and they do not know what they need to do to comply. Systems are having to spend too much time and money trying to comply with unnecessary regulations. As a result, systems don’t have the money to make system improvements to better serve existing customers or expand service to areas where individuals are on unsafe private wells. Water systems spend money on unnecessary testing that they could be using to upgrade their infrastructure to provide more reliable service.”
Senator Inhofe, in his opening statement, noted the importance of clean water, but noted that many of the small drinking water systems, including those in Oklahoma, struggling to meet federal drinking water standards due to unfunded mandates.
“Through the Safe Drinking Water Act, we have had great success in providing America with clean, safe drinking water. As our technology has improved, we have been able to detect smaller amounts of contaminants, and EPA has regulated more contaminants. Complying with EPA's new regulations has been difficult. Oklahoma has municipalities who struggle with the 2002 arsenic rule, and many of our small systems are having difficulty with the Disinfection Byproducts Stage I rule. Additionally, small systems that purchase water from other systems and were previously not required to test, treat, or monitor their water must now comply with Disinfection Byproducts Stage II rule.”
“I would also like to take the opportunity to remind the committee that we need to improve our nation's drinking water facilities by reauthorizing the State Revolving Loan Fund programs, both for drinking water and waste water. We cannot expect our communities to continue to provide safe drinking water if they do not have the resources to meet their infrastructure needs. This committee has the responsibility to ensure clean, safe, and affordable water for our country by providing the necessary resources to states and local governments. EPA estimates that over the next twenty years, eligible drinking water systems will need over $300 billion in infrastructure investments. I believe that many of the issues we are discussing today will be helped by passing S. 1005, the Water Infrastructure Financing Act.”
Each year, Senator Inhofe leads a bipartisan effort of nearly 60 Senators to secure funding through each fiscal year’s Department of Agriculture Appropriations Act and the Department of Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Act for rural drinking water and clean water programs nationwide.
In June 2009, EPW passed S. 1005, the Water Infrastructure Financing Act, a bipartisan bill that would reauthorize both the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds. This bill will provide much needed assistance to states with low interest infrastructure financing, additional resources for technical assistance, and additional state flexibilities to meet water challenges.