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Clean Water Trust Fund Proposed at House Hearing; Congress Should Invest in Protecting National Water Supply

June 8, 2005

Clean Water Trust Fund Proposed at House Hearing;  Congress Should Invest in Protecting National Water Supply

Statement by Wenonah Hauter, Director of Public Citizen’s Water for All Campaign

Most U.S. citizens recognize that clean and safe water is a basic service that the government should provide for the public good. But if Congress doesn’t take proactive steps to protect the reliable water system built in this country nearly 100 years ago, we’re going to be faced with the breakdown of our water systems.

Today, the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee holds a hearing about a proposal to establish a trust fund for clean water. Because the nation faces a water infrastructure funding gap of hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 20 years, the federal government should establish this fund. If it doesn’t, we risk losing the 30 years of water quality progress enjoyed under the Clean Water Act.

The public overwhelmingly supports the creation of a federal trust fund to help finance repairs to the infrastructure that makes clean and safe drinking water possible. A 2005 poll conducted by the Luntz Research Companies found that 86 percent of citizens support legislation to create a dedicated federal trust fund for clean water.

Aging pipes, growing populations, increased use of water for industrial and agricultural uses, and public health and environmental requirements are among factors straining local governments’ water and wastewater budgets from coast to coast. As a result, struggling communities nationwide are raising rates, issuing more debt and using tax revenues to help pay for increasing infrastructure costs.

Regrettably, in four of the last five fiscal years, the Bush administration has proposed cutting the budget for the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, which pays for wastewater system upgrades, by 37 percent, while resisting calls to raise the Safe Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund, which provides assistance for water system upgrades. While Congress typically restores funding to previous levels, those levels are a far cry from the billions needed to upgrade systems. Indeed, by some estimates, it will cost $20 billion annually for the next 20 years to build, repair and maintain water systems in this country.

Typically, when there has been a gap between the need for infrastructure repairs and available funding, Congress has established trust funds, financed by dedicated revenue sources. Public Citizen believes that this approach should be used to address the vital need for investment in our nation’s sewage infrastructure, as was discussed at today’s hearing. Further, legislation to create a trust fund not only should pay for repairs to sewage infrastructure but should be expanded to finance drinking water infrastructure.

Congress should pay close attention to our ailing national water system and create a federal Clean Water Trust Fund for infrastructure. This is an investment bound to pay off many times over.