Shimkus convenes hearing to assess nation’s drinking water infrastructure needs

A recent subcommittee hearing convened by U.S. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) explored the status of the nation’s drinking water infrastructure, replacement of aging lead pipes and deployment of new technologies.

Shimkus, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, noted that 51,000 community water systems treat 42 million gallons of water used by 299 million Americans each day.

While water quality in the United States is considered high, much of the 1 million miles of pipes that deliver drinking water were laid in the early to mid-20th century and have a lifespan of 75 to 100 years.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has highlighted concerns related to the integrity of the U.S. drinking water system, pointing to an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States.

“Last year, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN) authorized $600 million between two new programs dedicated to tackling lead pipe replacement and aiding economically disadvantaged and underserved communities,” Shimkus said.

While stating that those new programs are solid steps, he also called for reauthorizing the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund, a program that has provided more than $20 billion in funding to more than 12,400 projects since 1997.

“We must also explore other avenues that not only leverage investments in these utilities’ infrastructure, but also do it in a way that promotes American workers and protects consumers’ health and pocketbooks,” Shimkus said.

“I believe we must not be afraid to spend more federal money on this issue, but we must maintain local fees as the primary generator of funds for daily operation and maintenance of public water systems, as well as their long-term capital investment needs,” he said.

A 2013 survey by the Environmental Protection Agency said water systems need to invest $384.2 billion on infrastructure improvements over 20 years (from 2011-2030) to ensure the provision of safe tap water.

Rudolph Chow, the director of the Baltimore Department of Public Works and a representative of the American Municipal Water Association, testified that Congress has begun to give drinking water the attention it deserves.

“Last year’s passage of the Water Infrastructure for the Nation Act authorized funding for a new program aimed at removing and replacing outdated lead service lines and helping low-income customers absorb their share of these replacement costs,” Chow said. “… All of this represents good progress, but we know that much more remains to be done.”

Martin Kropelnicki, the president and CEO of the California Water Service Group and a representative of the National Association of Water Companies, highlighted the importance of private water utilities.

“The private water utility sector stands able, ready and willing to partner with local and state governments, as well as the federal government, to help meet the challenges our nation’s water infrastructure will face in the coming years and decades,” Kropelnicki said.