Let’s Keep Our Water Clean with The Water Infrastructure Resiliency Act

This year’s unprecedented storms and flooding are just a glimpse of the changes and challenges our nation will face in the future from a changing climate.  Increased extreme drought, severe storms and flooding, and rising sea levels are forecast to be more frequent and damaging and pose big threats to public health and the economy.   At the same time, the local infrastructure supporting our drinking water, wastewater and stormwater is failing.

In 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. water infrastructure a D- grade on their Report Card for America’s Infrastructure – the lowest rating of all infrastructure categories.

More recently, Building America’s Future released a report stating that the 2010 Global Competitive Index rated the United States as 15th on the World Infrastructure Ranking [PDF]. To make matters worse, local governments are struggling fiscally, and Standard and Poor’s recent U.S. credit downgrading will hit them hard.

Communities are caught between a rock and hard place. At the very time they need resources to plan and implement smart adaptation strategies to get out ahead of climate impacts to water, cities and counties are struggling to meet existing needs.

As bleak as this may sound, there is a bright spot. Last week, Congresswoman Lois Capps, along with 11 co-sponsors, introduced the Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Act, (H.R. 2738) which will help provide resources to local governments so they can prepare better and be more resilient to the impacts of droughts and floods.

This bill establishes a matching grant program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), allowing drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, and flood management agencies and utilities to compete for project funding to adapt their current operations and infrastructure to future impacts that are coming fast and furious.

Ideal projects include those that look to conserve water or increase water efficiency, preserve or improve water quality, rebuild or relocate threatened infrastructure, protect source waters and ecosystems, or implement advanced treatment technologies. In particular, green infrastructure, and other new and innovative approaches are encouraged.

Not only will this grant program help us to protect public health, but it will help to create jobs and boost our economy.  A study by The U.S. Conference of Mayors [PDF] found that for every one dollar invested into water and sewer infrastructure, the long-term GDP increases by $6.35. Not only does the economy benefit from the six-fold increase of the initial one dollar investment, but for every one job added in the water and sewer industry, 3.68 jobs are created elsewhere to support it.

The Administration and Congress have already made big strides in directing more infrastructure block grant funding toward resilient, adaptive strategies. The EPA’s Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds are required to give 20% of its grant towards projects that address green infrastructure; and  in May, the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act of 2011 was introduced in both the chambers of Congress.

Changing weather patterns and decrepit infrastructure are not going to disappear; in fact, it is likely they will get worse. At a time when many communities are feeling the effects of the economic downturn, H.R. 2738 will provide communities the quick and needed resources to adapt to rapidly changing conditions.

Building upon the progress already made by the Administration and in Congress, this bill will continue to help communities to preserve clean water, protect public health and maintain our economic growth.