Washington Outlook

Mayor McManus Helps Launch National Effort on Water Infrastructure Reps. Bilirakis, Boehlert, Borski and Brown Form Congressional Water Caucus

By Kevin McCarty
May 15, 2000


Lynn (MA) Mayor Patrick J. McManus joined with several House leaders and representatives of the water industry to call national attention to the need for increased investment in water and wastewater infrastructure.

Speaking at a press conference held last month at the U.S. Capitol, McManus said, "There is a critical need for increased investment in water and wastewater infrastructure and this need is here now."

The Capitol Hill event featured the announcement of a newly-created Congressional caucus on water issues, called the Water Infrastructure Caucus, and the release of a national report on water infrastructure needs, Clean and Safe Water for the 21st Century, by the Water Infrastructure Network (WIN).

Citing data from the WIN report, McManus said, "It is estimated that to maintain what we have will cost $1 trillion, and we now have an annual spending gap of $34 billion for infrastructure and operations."

Comparing the scale of this gap to a well-know local program, he said, "Take the Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG) that works so well. This gap is seven times the CDBG spending level."

McManus also talked about affordability, stating that "we have a problem today" in discussing the increasing percentage of households who are spending more than four percent of their income on water and wastewater services. He pointed out that four percent is a threshold level in measuring the affordability of these services.

He expressed his hope that this public awareness effort would lead to legislation in Congress, which he called "Water-21" like what has been done for surface transportation ("TEA-21") and aviation ("AIR-21"). Local officials, he noted, want this debate "to lead to an effort that won't go backwards, and threaten the wonderful works of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act, and keep this country moving forward."

McManus spoke at the event as a representative of the local government community. Within the Conference of Mayors, McManus is a Conference Trustee and also co-chairs the Urban Water Council. Among the more than twenty national organizations sponsoring the WIN report are numerous groups representing local elected and appointed officials, including the National League of Cities, the American Public Works Association, the Rebuild America Coalition, the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies as well as The U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Water Caucus Leaders Talk About Congress

To further the debate in Congress on the increasing investment gap in water infrastructure, several House Members participated in the event and used the occasion to announce the creation of a new Congressional caucus on water matters.

Representative Sherwood Boehlert (NY), one of the founders of the new caucus, talked about the many water infrastructure challenges, stating, "In response to this situation, Congressman Borski (PA), Congressman Bilirakis (FL), Congressman Brown (OH) and myself have formed the bipartisan Water Infrastructure Caucus. The objective of this Caucus is to educate policymakers in Washington on the funding crisis facing our nation's 54,000 community drinking water systems and 16,000 municipal wastewater treatment systems."

Boehlert also added that "The public health, environmental and economic implications of failing wastewater and drinking water systems must be understood - and addressed."

Boehlert, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment, oversees legislative and oversight activities related to the Clean Water Act, Water Resources and shares jurisdiction with the House Commerce Committee on issues pertaining to the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a Subcommittee chair, he is a senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which is led by Representative Bud Shuster (PA), the panel that helped secure substantial increases for transportation infrastructure through enactment of the "TEA-21" law in 1998 and "AIR-21" that was signed last month.

The Ranking Democrat on the Water Resources Subcommittee, Rep. Robert A. Borski, discussed the many needs of his City of Philadelphia, pointing out that due to city's antiquated water infrastructure "it wastes enough water to supply a city."

Borski also praised the "many great successes with the Clean Water Act" and indicated that as a member representing Philadelphia, he was pleased to join with the nation's mayors and the Conference of Mayors in this effort.

Representative Michael Bilirakis (FL), who played a key role in the bipartisan effort to reform the Safe Drinking Water Act, said, "Congress is often accused of being a reactive bodyÉToday, however, we are trying to do something different. We are identifying a very serious challenge to public health that will evolve over the next two decades. And we are trying to lay the groundwork to do something about it - before it becomes a crisis - and while we still have time to constructive, dare I say innovative, response."

Bilirakis, who chairs the House Commerce Subcommittee on Health and the Environment, also said, "I do not believe that the solution can, or will be, an unrestricted flow of new federal money. But I unwilling to stick my head in the sand and deny that a problem may exist when it is there before us in black and white. That, I believe, is the import of what we are doing today. And I intend to work with my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, to find acceptable solutions."

Speaking as one of the four founding members of the caucus, Rep. Sherrod Brown (OH) discussed the growing needs in his State of Ohio. "We must invest $5 billion over 20 years in water infrastructure and $7 billion over 20 years in wastewater infrastructure," he said. Brown, who serves as the Ranking Minority Member of the Subcommittee on Health and the Environment, also emphasized the need to focus attention on water conservation.

Also joining the event to support these efforts were Representatives Peter A. DeFazio (OR) and James A. Barcia (MI), both members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. DeFazio said, "We have mandates in place, yet there is no money to help communities." He also added that local governments need "federal assistance to meet federal mandates."

The efforts of the caucus will be directed initially at increasing Congressional awareness to the growing water infrastructure needs of the nation, with expectations that the caucus members will take a lead role in crafting legislative proposals for action in the 107th Congress, which convenes in January 2001.

In addition to the Members of Congress and Mayor McManus, Stephen Gorden, the Director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, and Willie Horton, the Executive Director of the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, also spoke at the press conference.

New Study Documents Water Infrastructure Investment Gap

Among the key findings of the WIN report is documentation of scale of the water infrastructure investment gap, which is estimated to be $34 billion annually for the period 2000-2019. It shows that average annual local expenditures of $61 billion, falling short of the $95 billion annually which will be needed to meet both capital and operating costs for water infrastructure during this period.

The report also finds that current federal assistance accounts for only ten percent of total capital outlays for water and wastewater infrastructure and less than five percent of total water and wastewater outlays. Federal support, the report shows, has declined by 75 percent in real terms since 1980.

Total expenditures for building, operating and maintaining drinking water and wastewater facilities over the next 20 years is projected at nearly $2 trillion, with a spending gap of $14 billion annually in drinking water and a spending gap of $20 billion annually for wastewater systems.

The report also finds that an increasing share of the population will be exceeding the four- percent of household income for water and wastewater services. It is also estimates that, if all of the spending needs were absorbed through local utility rates, more than one-third of the nation's households would exceed this criterion for measuring affordability during the 20-year period. By 2009, at least 22 percent of all households would exceed this threshold, up from the 1997 level of 18 percent.

A copy of the full report can be found at www.usmayors.org.  

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