Three Water Quality Bills Get House Subcommittee Approval

On Jan. 31, the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment gave its approval to three bills aimed at investing in the nation's wastewater infrastructure and improving water quality.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), chairwoman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure's subcommittee, presided over the markup of the Water Quality Financing Act of 2007 (H.R. 720), the Healthy Communities Water Supply Act of 2007 (H.R. 700) and the Water Quality Investment Act of 2007 (H.R. 569).

The Water Quality Financing Act of 2007 reauthorizes the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which would provide $20 billion over five years for loans to water pollution abatement projects. The bill also offers states increased flexibility in the financing packages they can offer to cities and local communities, including principal forgiveness, negative interest loans and other financing mechanisms that may be necessary to assist communities in meeting their water quality infrastructure goals.

"EPA and others estimate a shortfall of between $300 billion and $400 billion over the next 20 years for necessary wastewater infrastructure improvements, with an annual funding gap of between $3 billion and $11 billion over current expenditures. This shortfall is significant, because without considerable improvements to the wastewater treatment infrastructure, much of the progress made in cleaning up the nation's waters since the passage of the Clean Water Act is at risk," Johnson said. "This legislation encourages communities to consider innovative and alternative technologies that may result in greater, long-term environmental benefits."

The panel approved by voice vote an amendment to H.R. 720 offered by Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) that requires the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study of other potential funding and investment mechanisms and revenue sources for meeting the nation's water infrastructure needs.

The Healthy Communities Water Supply Act of 2007 reauthorizes $125 million for EPA's alternative water source grants program. Eligible projects include those designed to conserve, manage, reclaim, or reuse water or wastewater; or treat wastewater to meet critical municipal, industrial and agricultural water supply needs.

The Water Quality Investment Act of 2007 reauthorizes appropriations to municipalities to control combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs). CSOs and SSOs are overflows of untreated waste that can occur during wet-weather events as a result of poor maintenance, deteriorating infrastructure or inadequate capacity.

"These overflows are significant concerns for public health and safety, because they often result in discharges of raw sewage into neighboring rivers, streets, beaches, and basements," Johnson said. "To eliminate combined sewer overflows, communities must redesign their sewer systems to separate sewage flows from stormwater flows or provide significant additional capacity to eliminate the possibility that combined flows will exceed the limits of the infrastructure. Either way, this will be a massive undertaking -- estimated by EPA to cost more than $50 billion."

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee: http://transportation.house.gov

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX): http://www.house.gov/ebjohnson

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