The Senate passed a bipartisan bill to provide $35 billion to fund water infrastructure in states and on tribal lands on Thursday. The legislation, which sets aside funding for underserved communities, now goes to the House for consideration.
The Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act (DWWIA) allows for gradual increases in state funding for water infrastructure programs from 2022 to 2026.
It nearly doubles funding for lead removal projects, including removing lead pipes from schools, and allows for over 40 percent of funds to go toward helping underserved and tribal communities. It also promotes investments in projects to improve water infrastructure to be more resilient to the effects of the climate crisis.
The legislation passed the Senate 89-2. The two no votes were cast by Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Proponents of the bill say that the bill is desperately needed to improve water infrastructure in the U.S.
“To truly ‘Build Back Better,’ our nation must prioritize putting Americans back to work repairing and upgrading the aging pipes we all depend on to deliver our water,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois), lead author of the bill. “Years of failure to make adequate investments in our water infrastructure has led to a status quo where millions of Americans are served their drinking water through what is essentially a lead straw.”
Water infrastructure in the U.S. is indeed in need of improvement. In their 2021 infrastructure report, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave drinking water infrastructure in the U.S. a C minus, saying that “the system is aging and underfunded.”
Investment in water infrastructure in the U.S. has seen a dramatic decline in the last four decades. A 2020 study by the ASCE found that the investment gap for drinking water and wastewater would grow to $434 billion by 2029 if left unchecked.
This is particularly an issue for poor and minority communities. Studies have shown that the problem of a lack of access to clean drinking water — like the still-ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan — is most often experienced by poor communities with large nonwhite populations.
A 2019 study by the National Resources Defense Council found that water systems that continually violated the laws on clean drinking water were 40 percent more likely to be located in communities with a high proportion of residents of color.
Wide support for the DWWIA in the Senate indicates that there is bipartisan support for infrastructure investments — a topic du jour, thanks to President Joe Biden’s recent infrastructure proposals. Biden’s infrastructure bill also includes a proposal to replace all lead pipes among many other infrastructure improvements, but Republicans have aligned themselves against it.
The DWWIA might be a welcome step toward repairing the country’s water systems, but some environmental advocates say that it still won’t be sufficient to address issues of years of racist policies that have long disadvantaged nonwhite communities.
“While this legislation is a great start, it cannot be the final investment in communities that have been in peril even before the COVID-19 pandemic further devastated them,” said Julian Gonzalez, legislative counsel for Earthjustice, in a statement. “We look forward to Congress continuing to act through a larger infrastructure package, with significantly more robust funding for removal of lead service lines, more grants to disadvantaged communities and tribal nations, and more funding for ratepayer assistance.”