This week, water sector professionals celebrated Water Week 2023 in Washington, DC. Professionals from the nation’s water utilities, advocacy groups, environmental organizations, and other key stakeholders gathered near Capitol Hill to hear from decision makers on the current state of water policy. This year, ASCE was proud to join 31 other organizations as an official Water Week 2023 Partner, supporting Water Week’s goal of “ensuring all communities continue to have access to safe, reliable, and affordable drinking water and clean water.” Water sector stakeholders heard directly from agency officials and lawmakers on current water policy priorities and ongoing challenges to water infrastructure development and water safety.
On Tuesday, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox spoke about continued implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provided more than $50 billion for drinking water and clean water infrastructure. She also spoke of EPA’s continued efforts to address per- and polyfluroalkyl substances (PFAS), which include a recently proposed standard limiting PFAS levels in drinking water. Fox further discussed EPA’s commitment to hold polluters accountable for PFAS contamination using the agency’s enforcement authority.
Finally, Assistant Administrator Fox spoke about the Biden Administration’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which was largely crafted by EPA and has faced ongoing challenges. On April 12th, a federal court blocked implementation of the rule in 24 states, in addition to a previous injunction against the rule in Texas and Idaho. The court ruled that the rule “posed a threat to [the states’] sovereign rights”, leaving the rule effective in less than half of the country. In addition, Congress recently passed a resolution which would officially rescind the rule, but that resolution was vetoed by President Joe Biden. Fox expressed her belief that the WOTUS rule, which determines waters that are subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act, is fundamental to EPA’s efforts in the water sphere and that the 2023 rule was crafted to be clear, durable, and balanced. She stated her belief that if the rule were to be dismantled, it would place a significant burden on water utilities to address water pollution concerns.
Stakeholders also heard from other officials with EPA’s Office of Water, as well as other federal agencies. Andrew Sawyers, Director of EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management outlined his office’s commitment to resilient and durable solutions to wastewater challenges, and ways in which EPA is working with communities to provide technical assistance and helping them to access project financing. Jennifer McClain, Director of EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, discussed her view that the infrastructure law provided an opportunity through flexible financing to improve resiliency and water safety in a creative manner. She also discussed ongoing development of the agency’s revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule, which will address challenges such as lead service line replacement in a proactive and equitable manner, and will provide clear regulation. And Shannon Zaret with the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of State and Community Energy Programs highlighted wastewater technical assistance activities at DOE which support equipment upgrades, and help communities identify potential savings to reduce financial burdens.
On Wednesday, lawmakers spoke with Water Week attendees about ongoing water policy efforts and priorities in Congress. This included Representative David Rouzer (R-NC), Chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment. Chairman Rouzer noted his desire to make oversight of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law a priority for his subcommittee. He also expressed his commitment to keeping the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)- which falls under the subcommittee’s jurisdiction- on its current biennial schedule to ensure that water resources projects continue to move forward, as well as the subcommittee’s future efforts to pursue project permitting reform.
As the 118th Congress continues to move forward, and EPA and other agencies continue implementation of water investments in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and other Biden Administration water policy priorities, we encourage you to follow updates form ASCE’s Government Relations team. We will continue to highlight funding opportunities, key legislation, and agency rule making and provide further insights on the issues surrounding water policy.