WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a joint hearing of the full Committee and the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife entitled, “Examining the Challenges Facing Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Projects.” Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Good morning, everyone. I call this hearing to order. We’re joined today by an excellent panel of witnesses: Kishia Powell, Shellie Chard, Michael McNulty, and Nathan Ohle, thank you for being here.
“Let me begin today by thanking Senators Duckworth, Cardin, and Lummis for their leadership in exploring legislation to address the challenges facing our nation through our neglect and lack of investment in America’s water infrastructure.
“If you think about it, the admonition to make the necessary investments in our water infrastructure can be traced all the way back to the words of Jefferson when he wrote in the Declaration of Independence of our unalienable rights to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’
“After all, is it truly possible to have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness if we don’t have clean water? The answer is ‘No.’ But, sadly, the reality for far too many communities around our country is that they don’t have reliable access to water that is essential for daily life.
“Take the case of Flint, Michigan. In 2014, lead contamination in Flint’s drinking water created a humanitarian disaster, leaving thousands of families without water to drink, bathe in, or cook with. Sadly, Flint is not an isolated incident. With the current state of our water systems, there are multiple ‘Flints’ waiting to happen across the country.
“Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers puts out a report card assessing the state of our nation’s infrastructure. The grades continue to be a cause for concern. Just take a look at these charts.
“In last month’s report card, our aging drinking water systems earned a C-minus, estimating there is a water main break every two minutes in America. I’m told that in the course of a day, that’s enough water to fill over 9,000 swimming pools.
“Our wastewater treatment facilities fared even worse—a grade of D-plus. Our nation has over one million miles of sewers and wastewater pipes. On average, they are 45 years old, and many systems date back over a century. Those aren’t the kinds of grades that any of us would expect of our children or grandchildren. Neither are they the kinds of grades we should expect when it comes to treating waste water or providing Americans with clean water to drink.
“These poor grades show how cities and towns around the nation have struggled to maintain their drinking water systems and prepare for the threats that emanate from climate change, including extreme storms and rising sea levels.
“In its biennial High Risk Report published this month, the Government Accountability Office urges that climate resilience measures be taken for water infrastructure projects that receive federal financial assistance.
“That emphasis on climate resilience makes a whole lot of sense when we look at the water-related crises caused by extreme weather last month in many parts of the South. In Oklahoma, Texas, and Jackson, Mississippi, millions of families were left without access to safe running water. That’s a disaster that should never have happened in this country. We need to do our very best to make sure prevent it from happening again in the years ahead.
“There is some good news on this front, though, because—fortunately—when we invest in water infrastructure, that investment not only pays for itself—it also helps in growing the economy of our nation.
“Water touches just about every part of our economy, perhaps even more than many people may realize. The Commerce Department tells us that when we add one job in the water and wastewater industry, it leads to the creation of an additional four additional jobs in America.
“I’m reminded once again of the words of Einstein, ‘In adversity, lies opportunity.’ Clearly the adversity we face is great, but if we seize the day and make smart investments in cleaner, safer water for our communities, those investments more than pay for themselves in the long run through the creation of good-paying American jobs.”