Natural Security: Helping Communities Implement Sustainable Water StrategiesFederal Policy Recommendations

Federal Policy Recommendations

Clean water is essential to our health, our communities, and our lives.  Yet our water infrastructure – drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems, dams, and levees – is seriously outdated.  In addition, we have degraded much of our essential natural infrastructure – forests, streams, wetlands, and floodplains. Global warming will worsen the situation, as rising temperatures, increased water demands, extended droughts, and intense storms strain our water supplies, flood our communities, and pollute our waterways.

We need to fundamentally transform the way we manage water. A 21st century approach recognizes “green infrastructure” as the core of our water management system. Green infrastructure is the most cost-effective and flexible way for communities to deal with the impacts of global warming.

Top 5 Steps Congress Can Take

1. Climate legislation. It is essential that the Senate pass a climate bill and that Congress finalize climate legislation for the President’s signature. Any climate legislation should not only address greenhouse gas pollution but also include funding to help states, communities, and water utilities adapt to the coming impacts to freshwater systems by prioritizing and creating incentives for green infrastructure and non-structural approaches.

2. Restore Clean Water Act Protections. Protecting supplies of clean water and making sure that drinking water sources remain pristine is critical for communities to adapt to climate change.  To that end Congress should pass the Clean Water Restoration Act (S. 787) to re-affirm protection of the freshwater systems that sustain clean water supplies and the Clean Water Protection Act (H.R. 1310) to preserve the streams and wetlands which defend downstream communities from flooding.

3. Federal infrastructure funding. The nation’s water infrastructure is crumbling and in desperate need of more investment – but we should invest in wiser, greener strategies not simply rebuild 19th and 20th century designs. Congress should make green infrastructure and water efficiency strategies a centerpiece of all federal infrastructure investments for drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater treatment and flood management. Congress can take these immediate steps:

  • Reauthorize the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs with strong priority and incentives given to projects that include substantial green infrastructure and water efficiency investments.
  • Pass the Water Protection and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (H.R. 3202) to establish a clean water trust fund to support efforts by water systems to increase energy efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and mitigate the impacts of climate change and to establish a national water infrastructure research, development, and demonstration program, among other provisions. 
  • Lay the groundwork for other authorization bills to include substantial investments in green infrastructure.  Unlike energy, transportation, agriculture, and other national priorities, there is no single authorization bill that addresses water resources.  Instead, Congress must plan to include elements of a new vision for water in a variety of upcoming legislative vehicles, including the Transportation Bill, the Farm Bill, and the Water Resources Development Act. 

4. Reform federal flood management.  Flood costs continue to spiral upwards in spite of the billions spent on levees and flood control projects. To stop the flood loss cycle, the federal government must protect and preserve floodplains by adopting federal policies that discourage development and other destructive and degrading activities in floodplains. Congress should enact comprehensive reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program to encourage better floodplain management, reduce property loss and costs to taxpayers, protect and restore critical ecosystems, and improve public safety. These reforms should NOT include expanding the NFIP to include wind insurance, which would further destabilize the program.  Congress should also support the efforts of the Administration to modernize the principles, standards, and procedures for federal water resource projects, including flood management projects.

5. Invest in key programs that support smarter water management decisions.  Irresponsible management of water resources and the destruction of natural systems such as wetlands and floodplains make communities more vulnerable to climate change.  Congress can take these immediate steps to support smarter water management in FY 2010:

  • Authorize EPA’s WaterSense program, a voluntary water-efficient product labeling program (included in H.R. 2454 and S. 1005) and appropriate at least $10 million.
  • Appropriate EPA’s Section 319 program $250 million to reduce polluted storm water runoff.
  • Appropriate the USGS’ National Streamflow Information Program a minimum of $28.5 million to provide critical science based water data.
  • Appropriate the U.S. Army Corps Restoration programs (sections 1135 and 206) at least $25 million each and the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program $45 million to restore damaged wetlands.
  • Appropriate NOAA’s Habitat Restoration Center a minimum of $40 million annually to restore critical riverine and coastal systems.
  • Provide FEMA $500 million to protect communities from flood disasters through the Flood Mitigation Assistance Program, Repetitive and Severe Repetitive Flood Claims Program, and the National Pre-Disaster Mitigation Fund.