Clean Water Must be Top Priority for New Administration and Congress

With infrastructure crumbling and communities at risk, clean water must be top priority for new administration and Congress -- American Rivers outlines top actions for water

November 6th, 2008

Andrew Fahlund, American Rivers, 202-347-7550
Amy Kober, American Rivers, 206-213-0330 x23 

Washington, DC – With the nation’s sewer systems, pipes, and levees outdated and crumbling, and with global warming threatening communities with more intense floods and droughts, water infrastructure must be a top priority for the Obama administration and the 111th Congress, American Rivers said today. 

“Our country is reaching a crisis point when it comes to our clean water supply, and we are woefully unprepared to deal with the floods, droughts and waterborne diseases that are increasing with global warming,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. “We need to make clean water a top priority.” 

“Fortunately, an Obama administration and changes in Congress mean that clean water will get more funding and higher priority than it has for the last eight years. We look forward to working with Congress and the administration to transform America’s approach to water. It is a matter of economic security, jobs, and public health and safety.”

American Rivers outlined three key actions for the Obama administration and Congress:

1.  Fight global warming – Our communities are experiencing the impacts of global warming first and worst in the water cycle, whether it is with more frequent floods or more severe droughts, or increased pollution and water-borne diseases. Congress must pass cap-and-trade legislation immediately to stop global warming and its impacts. Some of the revenues from such a program should be invested in renewable energy technologies, including efficiency, and assisting low-income people affected by increased energy prices. The rest should be invested in smart, sustainable solutions to help people and wildlife adapt to a changing climate, including droughts and floods. The Obama administration should also immediately direct all federal agencies with responsibility for water resources to integrate the best science and policy to promote responsible adaptation measures.

2.  Invest more and invest smarter in water infrastructure – Our nation’s traditional water infrastructure — treatment plants, dams, levees and pipes — is crumbling and outdated, built in a time when the climate was more predictable. Water and wastewater systems now receive the lowest grade, a D-, of all infrastructure rated by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Further, our nation’s natural infrastructure — wetlands, floodplains, forests, and stream channels — has been degraded and neglected. In fact, its enormous contribution to ensuring abundant clean water and protection from storms and floods has largely gone unrecognized.

We need to rebuild our infrastructure, with an eye toward faster, cheaper and more effective solutions to meet current realities. The best kind of engineering integrates nature rather than fighting it. Nature works best and cheapest, and provides greater safety and security than the over-engineered, one-size-fits-all approach of the last century. We need to make better use of our natural assets like wetlands and floodplains and we need to use innovative technologies and tools, which create jobs and save tax dollars. As with energy, we also need to invest more in using water efficiently always the cheapest source of new water, and like energy efficiency, creates good jobs that can’t be outsourced. Economic stimulus bills and other infrastructure legislation must take a 21st century approach that fully integrates green solutions rather than relegating them to the sidelines.

3.  Restore federal protection to our nation’s waters – The Supreme Court’s 2006 Rappanos decision has left thousands of river miles and hundreds of thousands of wetland acres without critical protections. We need these natural assets more than ever, as they provide clean abundant water and protection from storms and floods. Those protections have also ensured that upstream communities do not threaten the health and well-being of their downstream neighbors. The progress of the past 35 years toward cleaning up our nation’s rivers and streams is in dire jeopardy.  Congress should pass the Clean Water Restoration Act to ensure that our clean water, health and safety enjoy the same level of protection they have since 1972.

“Clean water is the most valuable substance on the planet. It is essential to all life and there is no substitute. And healthy rivers, with all the services they provide, are one of a community’s most valuable assets. Failure to protect our rivers and clean water today will lead to serious economic, health, and environmental problems tomorrow,” said Wodder.

“It is time for a new vision for water,” said Wodder. “We call on the Obama administration and Congress to work with American Rivers on a 21st century approach that incorporates green solutions, and protects our rivers and communities. The time for action is now.” 


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About American Rivers

About American Rivers

American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 200,000 members, supporters, and volunteers.

Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Find your connections at AmericanRivers.org, Facebook.com/AmericanRivers, and Twitter.com/AmericanRivers.