Keeping Congress Focused on Water Infrastructure

  • by Dave Eggerton
  • Apr 26, 2019
  • Voices on Water

Few things remain unchanged or unsaid in the water industry from a century ago, but there is at least one exception. 

“Water problems are perhaps the most vital internal questions of the United States,” said President Theodore Roosevelt, in his first address to Congress 118 years ago. 

This statement makes as much sense in 2019 as it did 1901. I included the quote in written testimony that I recently delivered to the House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife. Today, over 100 years later, the need to build on the legacy of President Roosevelt and invest in water resources remains paramount. And in many ways, we face a bigger challenge in upgrading our water infrastructure than we did in building its foundations. 

According to combined estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Reclamation, Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Agriculture, and Indian Health Service, the needed investments in water infrastructure nationwide in the coming decades for drinking water, wastewater, and irrigation systems total more than $780 billion dollars. Adding urgency to this need is the sobering fact of what happens without that investment – the loss of nearly 500,000 U.S. jobs by 2025 and $508 billion in gross domestic product, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

That is not a lot of time to find that amount of money. But during my visit to Washington D.C., I was again encouraged by how investment in water enjoys bipartisan support. Time will tell, but I believe the subcommittee was a receptive audience and our message is getting through. And some of the work we’re asking of our elected representatives comes with no price tag. 

In my testimony, I pointed out that our members recognize that warranted regulations provide important protections. However, our current regulatory structure is exceptionally complex with numerous areas of overlap that are at best duplicative and in some cases contradictory. I encouraged subcommittee members to find opportunities to streamline regulations and reduce unnecessary duplication. Proof that we’re being listened to came last month when Congressman John Garamendi (D-3) introduced a bill extending National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits that was co-sponsored by Congressmen Ken Calvert (R-42) and Rob Woodall (R-GA).

I spoke to the subcommittee on behalf of ACWA members and the National Water Resources Association (NWRA), where I serve on the State Executives Council. Our working relationship with the NWRA is among a number of collaborative efforts between ACWA and likeminded organizations. For ACWA members, national advocacy puts us in the room every day when funding and policy decisions are made. While I was only in Washington D.C. for one day, our ACWA East office collectively gives our members a permanent presence in the nation’s capital every day. My testimony, ACWA East staff and their interaction with members of ACWA’s Federal Affairs Committee supplement each other to produce positive results for the ACWA community.

Addressing our nation’s water infrastructure needs is a monumental challenge. But our nation has faced and overcome similar challenges in its past, and we are capable of doing so again.

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