How Much are Safe Drinking Water, Clean Rivers Worth?

Sediment runoff | © Michelle Adams

Outdated stormwater infrastructure puts clean drinking water at risk. Congress must invest now to protect against sewage overflows.

According to the most recent House Interior-EPA Appropriations bill, which sets funding levels for the Department of Interior, the EPA, and other related programs, safe drinking water and clean rivers aren’t worth very much.

In the subcommittee’s draft appropriations bill, funding levels for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds (SRFs) – critical programs that help to fund and leverage investment in water infrastructure – are cut by $1.92 billion in the House bill from the President’s budget request.

This cut just doesn’t make sense.  Over the next twenty years, we’ll need to invest an estimated $298 billion in our wastewater and stormwater infrastructure to protect safe, clean water. That averages out to about $14.9 billion every year. Outdated and aging infrastructure compromises the safety of our drinking water supplies and contributes to sewage overflows. The City of Indianapolis alone is spending over $3 billion to update its sewage system to reduce the estimated 7.8 billion gallons of sewage and stormwater that flow into local creeks and streams every year.

Fortunately, there’s good news for clean water and public health from the Senate.

The Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee released their bill setting funding levels for these programs based on the President’s budget request. Rather than cutting the SRFs by a combined $1.92 billion, the Senate version actually increases funding for both the Clean Water and Drinking Water SRFs from the President’s request. The Senate’s draft bill, unlike the House bill, also maintains the Green Project Reserve that has catalyzed the implementation of green infrastructure to reduce polluted runoff across the country since its inception in 2009.

Not only are these programs critical to protect clean water, ensuring that our rivers and lakes are healthy and our water supplies are safe to drink, but they also drive investment and support job growth. Every $1 billion invested in water and wastewater infrastructure [PDF] is estimated to yield 20,000 jobs. A 2008 study found that adding one job in the water and sewer sector creates 3.68 jobs in the national economy to support that job.

Tight budgets call for tough choices, but the House proposal that cuts the Clean Water and Drinking Water SRFs by a combined 69 percent from the levels proposed under the President’s budget is a clear step backward, threatening public health if water isn’t safe to drink and the health of our nation’s rivers, lakes, and streams.