WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Carper, (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member of the EPW Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), ranking member of the EPW Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife, and Cory Booker (D-N.J) co-hosted a roundtable entitled, “Drinking Water: A Crisis in Every State.”

The senators heard from experts from across the country about the challenges facing our nation's aging drinking water infrastructure and what the federal government can do to ensure that all families have access to safe and clean drinking water, regardless of their means or where they live. This year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state of U.S. infrastructure an overall grade of D+. Our drinking water infrastructure received a D and it is estimated that it would require $1 trillion dollars in investment over the next 25 years. In order to prevent another Flint drinking water crisis, Congress must prioritize investment in the drinking water infrastructure on which every American relies.

The roundtable hosts sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt asking how the agency intends to identify and respond to instances of drinking water contamination, including those involving lead, perchlorate and PFOA/PFOS. The letter notes that proposed cuts to EPA’s budget, EPA’s long-standing failure to issue new drinking water standards and EPA’s recent actions to rescind the Clean Water Rule would only serve to exacerbate the risks to the American public. The Senators write:

“We are concerned that the combination of this Administration’s inclination to repeal environmental regulations rather than promulgate new ones, and to constrain state and federal drinking water spending, will result in serious harm to public health.” 

“The threat to our nation’s drinking water continues to grow each day we fail to properly invest in modern, safe water systems,” said Senator Carper. “I want to thank our panelists for their expertise and my co-hosts for continuing to draw attention to this national crisis. I also want to thank Senator Duckworth for her continued work focusing EPW’s efforts to improve our water systems in her role leading our Fisheries and Water Subcommittee. Together, we have to find a way to help make sure parents can feel confident about the glass of water they give their kids at the dinner table. I often say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and no place is this saying truer than with regard to maintaining our critical local infrastructure.”

“Whether it’s aging sewer systems that overflow in heavy rains, towns with contaminated wells from old industrial parks or communities with aging pipes that leach lead and introduce bacteria into the water, the result is the same for families who bathe and drink the water from their homes every day. Boiling water advisories are all too common for Michigan families. Making investments to ensure our water is safe to drink is one of our most basic responsibilities,” said Senator Stabenow.

“Americans have a right to expect that water coming from their taps is safe to drink and that Congress will do everything within its power to ensure that happens,” said Senator Cardin. “We can no longer delay needed upgrades to our drinking water infrastructure, strengthening drinking water protections and forever getting lead and other contaminants out of public water supplies.”

“When families send their children to school or turn on their faucet at home, they should not have to worry about their drinking water being contaminated with a dangerous neurotoxin like lead,” said Senator Duckworth. “The threat of contaminated water is a national public health crisis in cities across the nation, including Chicago, Carbondale, Galesburg and East St. Louis, Illinois. Today’s discussion reaffirmed the need for improved drinking water infrastructure across the country, and I will keep working to ensure every family in America – no matter where they live – has access to clean and safe drinking water.”

“Our inability to guarantee clean, safe drinking water to every American is yet another symptom of the nation’s decaying infrastructure. Over 5,000 water systems in the United States contain dangerous levels of lead, threatening millions of Americans across the country. We must address this crisis head on, and invest in an overhaul of drinking water infrastructure that our nation sorely needs,” said Senator Booker.

Below are brief biographies of today’s panelists. Full biographies can be found here.

Elin Betanzo leads Safe Water Engineering, a small firm working to improve access to safe drinking water through engineering and policy consulting. In August of 2015, Elin played a critical role in uncovering the Flint Water Crisis by encouraging pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha to conduct a study that discovered elevated lead levels in children living in Flint, Michigan. Elin continues to raise awareness of lead in drinking water and improve public health protection of safe drinking water regulation and legislation at the federal and state levels.

Mary Beth Haller, Esq. Bureau of Environmental Health, Baltimore City Health Department, Assistant Commissioner

Ms. Haller, has served as Assistant Commissioner of Environmental Health in the Division of Disease Control for the City of Baltimore’s Health Department since February 2012. She is responsible for two program areas: the Office of Animal Control and the Office of Environmental Inspection Services, which includes Plan Review, Ecology & Institutional Services and Food Control.

Chris Sturm, Managing Director, Policy and Water, New Jersey Future

Chris directs New Jersey Future’s water programs to upgrade urban water infrastructure, mainstream green infrastructure, and facilitate Jersey Water Works. She also leads New Jersey Future’s policy development and advocacy across a host of issues including sustainable infrastructure, climate resilience, regional planning and incentives for compact, equitable growth. She spearheads collaborative efforts to reshape land use policies and public investments so that they strengthen communities. Chris is a member of the Clean Water Council of New Jersey and the U.S. Water Alliance. Her career experience includes serving as the assistant director of the Capital City Redevelopment Corporation, as well as working for the MSM Regional Council (now PlanSmart NJ), the Eagleton Institute, and the Office of State Planning. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, where she concentrated in Urban and Regional Planning.

Dr. Marc Edwards, Virginia Tech

Dr. Edwards is an expert in the issues of water treatment, corrosion, arsenic removal, and applied aquatic chemistry. An expert on water treatment and corrosion, Edwards's research on elevated lead levels in Washington, DC's municipal water supply gained national attention, changed the city's recommendations on water use in homes with lead service pipes, and caused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to admit to publishing a report so rife with errors that a congressional investigation called it "scientifically indefensible". He is considered one of the world's leading experts in water corrosion in home plumbing, and a nationally recognized expert on copper corrosion. He is also one of the lead scientists in the Flint water crisis.

Joaquin Esquivel, California State Water Resources Control Board

Joaquin Esquivel, was appointed to the State Water Resources Control Board by Governor Jerry Brown in March 2017. Previously, he served as assistant secretary for federal water policy at the California Natural Resources Agency in the governor’s Washington, D.C. office, where he facilitated the development of policy priorities between the agency, the Governor’s Office, the California Congressional delegation, and federal stakeholder agencies. For more than eight years prior to that he worked for US Senator Barbara Boxer of California, most recently as her legislative assistant covering the agriculture, Native American, water, oceans, and nutrition portfolios, in addition to being the director of information and technology. He brings this experience to the PPIC Water Policy Center Advisory Council. He was born and raised in California’s Coachella Valley. He holds a BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara in English.