Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act

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On Tuesday, April 5, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife held a hearing to discuss implementation of the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act (DWWIA). DWWIA was passed by the Senate last April on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis and was ultimately signed into law in November as a key portion of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).  ASCE endorsed DWWIA last April and urged swift passage in the Senate.

Hallmark provisions in IIJA which derived from DWWIA include reauthorization and appropriations  of nearly $50 billion for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF), including $15 billion for lead service line replacements through the Drinking Water SRF; and reauthorization of the Water Infrastructure Finance & Innovation Act (WIFIA).  Additional DWWIA provisions in IIJA included:

  • $1.4 billion for sanitary sewer overflows and stormwater reuse municipal grants;
  • $510 million for the Assistance for the Small and Disadvantaged Communities Drinking Water Grant program; and
  • $375 million for the Drinking Water System Infrastructure Resilience and Sustainability grant program, and to create a corresponding Clean Water Infrastructure program.

The hearing marked the first time the subcommittee had convened since the signing of the IIJA in November. Appearing before the subcommittee were various stakeholders to discuss challenges and opportunities in implementing DWWIA provisions of IIJA.  Witnesses included city officials, environmental policy experts, and the nonprofit sector.

Mayor Ras J. Baraka of Newark, NJ discussed his city’s successful effort to replace more than 23,000 lead service lines in Newark in less than three years.  He noted that contamination of water from lead service lines disproportionately impacts communities of color, but  it is also a challenge that all communities experience, and that he hoped Newark could serve as an example of how to address this challenge.  Joshua Schimmel, Executive Director of the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission in Springfield, MA, as well as a board member with the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), spoke of the importance of water infrastructure funds for state agencies in efforts to keep user rates low, and how states need to be innovative in how they use these funds.  Susan Bodine, an attorney with Earth and Water Law, LLC spoke of implementation challenges many states may face with such a large influx of funds, including the need for states to satisfy certain conditions and meet certain deadlines for funding use before money is reallocated.  Finally, Mark Pepper with the Wyoming Association of Rural Water Systems also spoke of the challenges that such a large influx of funds that states will face, including the need to increase state capacity to effectively utilize these funds.

Much of the early questioning from subcommittee members such as Subcommittee Chairwoman Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Senate EPW Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE), and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) focused on Baraka’s successful implementation of Newark’s service line removal program.  Baraka emphasized a “3 pronged approach” which included distribution and installation of point of use filters for residents to limit exposure to led from existing lines, followed by corrosion control replacements to prevent lead from further seeping into water systems, and then finally replacement of service lines.  He then went on to discuss how the city was able to implement the program in a three-year time period, as projects of this magnitude tend to take up to 10 years to complete.  Newark was able to achieve this by using all information and data available to track every lead service line in the city, making service line replacement mandatory, and receiving help from the New Jersey State legislature through passage of legislation to allow the city to access private property to replace lead lines.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) posed several questions regarding implementation of IIJA funds, including about potential challenges with EPA’s guidance memorandum for use of SRF funding.  Susan Bodine noted that each state has different definitions of “disadvantaged community”, which are heavily emphasized in EPA’s guidance.  Bodine expressed her concern that states may feel as though they are required to revise these definitions, which she felt could cause confusion as states seek to efficiently fund infrastructure projects.  Lummis also asked the panel what they felt Congress should be doing to ensure federal dollars are most impactful.  Baraka expressed his belief that more funds should go directly to cities so they can be put to use more expeditiously, while Schimmel hoped that independent utilities which serve larger areas may also be eligible to receive funds, and emphasized a need to incentivize innovation in SRF programs.

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