Ohio Senator Urges Feds to Fund Infrastructure Repair

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) assailed the federal government's neglect of Ohio's aging infrastructure, which leaves local taxpayers to foot the bill. Counties throughout the state are suffering from failing water and sewer systems that are unable to accommodate new residential and economic development projects.

Brown noted that federal funding for drinking water and sewer system improvements is at an all-time low, and he unveiled efforts to increase federal support to help modernize Ohio's deteriorating water and sewer systems.

"It's time for the government to step up, devote more resources, and work with state and local governments to maintain effective water treatment systems," Brown said.

Seventy-seven percent of Ohio's wastewater treatment and collection plants serve rural communities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that over the next 20 years there needs to be an investment of more than $22 billion in Ohio to address drinking water and wastewater infrastructure needs.

A report this month by EPA showed that 104 facilities in Ohio have serious sewage overflow problems. This amounts to a needed investment of $6.3 billion, an increase of more than half since the 2000 survey. The report calculated the immediate national need for wastewater improvements at more than $200 billion, with Ohio needing more than $10 billion invested in publicly owned wastewater treatment.

A 2002 EPA report on water infrastructure funding found that over a 20-year period, there is a nearly $9 billion per year spending gap on wastewater infrastructure needs. When comparing the most recent appropriation to 1987, the first year of the EPA's Clean Water revolving loan fund, Ohio's funding decreased by 84 percent. With communities struggling to deal with aging and deteriorating infrastructure, the need for federal funding is greater than ever.

In light of the drastic decline in federal funding for municipal water and sewage projects, Brown announced his plan for addressing Ohio's crippled water infrastructure:

• He called on Office of Management and Budget Director Jim Nussle to increase funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund Program -- the primary federal contribution to water quality projects -- in the 2009 budget. As the Senate works on the 2009 budget, Brown pledged to push for an increase in funding for sewage projects.

• As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Brown called on the President to sign a farm bill that provides additional resources for rural water and wastewater infrastructure. The Senate farm bill would provide $135 million to reduce the backlog of applications for rural water, waste disposal, and wastewater facility grants. Additionally, the farm bill would provide grants for financially distressed communities with a population of 2,500 or less for grants to conduct feasibility studies and technical assistance for water and wastewater facilities. It would also provide $20 million to fund a rural water and wastewater rider program that would provide technical assistance to help bring small public water systems into compliance with state and national environmental regulations.

• As a member of the Senate Banking Committee, Brown said he will cosponsor the National Infrastructure Bank Act of 2007 (S. 1926), a bipartisan bill that would establish a new method through which the federal government can finance infrastructure projects more effectively with public and private capital.

• Brown also announced that he will cosponsor the Water Quality Investment Act of 2007 (S. 836), which would increase investments in the nation's wastewater systems. This legislation provides grants to those areas that need help the most to reduce raw sewage overflows.

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