Opening Statement of Ranking Member Barbara Boxer

EPW Hearing on “The Importance of Enacting a New Water Resources Development Act” 

February 10, 2016

 (Remarks as prepared for delivery)


The drinking water emergency in Flint, Michigan, puts a spotlight on our national infrastructure challenges.  The health and safety of children and families depend on safe drinking water.  As we develop a new Water Resources Development Act - known as WRDA - we must address the need to invest in our aging infrastructure.

 The lead poisoning of children in Flint highlights the need for a modern infrastructure system that will keep families safe from toxins such as lead in their drinking water.  As parents in Flint know, there is no safe level of lead in children, and the effects of lead exposure are generally irreversible.  Lead harms the developing brains and nervous systems of children and developing fetuses. 

 The American people have a right to expect safe, clean water when they turn on their faucets.  Yet, millions of homes across America receive water from pipes that date to an era before scientists and public health professionals knew of the harm caused by lead exposure.  Some major U.S. cities installed these drinking water pipes more than one hundred years ago. 

 In a recent New York Times article, Erik Olson, who is a former staffer on this committee and currently serves as head of the health and environment program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: “You think our roads and bridges aren’t being fixed? The stuff underground is just totally ignored. We’re mostly living off the investment of our parents and grandparents for our drinking water supply.” 

 Aging pipes is a nationwide problem, as the Detroit Free Press recently reported: “About 10 million American homes and buildings receive water from service lines that are at least partially lead, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

 The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our nation’s drinking water infrastructure a “D” and reports that “[b]y 2050, the aggregate investment needs would total more than $1.7 trillion.”

 The next WRDA bill gives us an opportunity to address our aging drinking water infrastructure.  I believe the next bill should enable communities to identify the infrastructure that poses a threat to public health.  With the information that is collected and analyzed, we can use existing programs, such as the State Revolving Fund and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) -- which we created in the 2014 WRDA bill -- to target investment where it is needed most. 

 In addition to investing in our aging drinking water infrastructure, the next WRDA bill can provide many other benefits to American families and businesses.  WRDA’s projects, policies, and programs are essential components of creating jobs and keeping our economy growing.  For example, U.S. ports and waterways, many of which rely on the funding authorized in WRDA bills, moved 2.5 billion tons of goods in fiscal year 2015.  And U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood risk management projects that are authorized by WRDA prevent billions of dollars in damages every year. 

 In California, we continue to face some of the nation’s most critical water resources challenges. 

We are facing one of the most severe droughts on record, which has forced the Governor to declare a drought State of Emergency and implement water restrictions.  One way to address this challenge is to invest in new technologies that provide additional sources of water, such as recycling and desalination. This bill can provide important support for these technologies.

 As we develop this bill, I also intend to focus attention on restoration of great water bodies such as the Salton Sea in California, which is facing a steep decline and poses a public health and environmental threat.

 There are many other life-saving and economically important projects in California and across the country that are ready to be built following passage of WRDA.  

 I have been working closely with Senator Inhofe and look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to advance a WRDA bill early this year.  I am also hopeful that we can work together to address the critical issues of aging infrastructure, including those highlighted by the Flint drinking water crisis.

 I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about how WRDA can ensure progress on important projects and programs that create jobs, support commerce, and protect public safety.