This post was written by Cathy Gillen and Matthew McGinn
This week, Washington celebrated Water Week 2022, highlighting the critical importance of water policy. Water sector professionals gathered in person and remotely to advocate for critical water policy initiatives, hear from lawmakers on the current state of water policy, and discuss ongoing challenges. This year marked the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that Water Week events were held in person, and it comes at an exciting time for water policy.
With the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the water sector is seeing a significant investment in clean and drinking water infrastructure. IIJA provided approximately $55 billion to support capitalization projects through the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs, lead service line replacement projects, and addressing emerging contaminants such as PFAS. Radhika Fox, Assistant Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Water, in remarks to Water Week participants compared the current moment for water policy to the signing of the Clean Water Act more than 50 years ago, noting “We made a bet on clean water. We made a bet on our nation, and we got to work.”
ASCE staff participated in water week events this week, including a webinar with Biden Administration officials and Members of Congress on Federal action on water quality. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI) spoke on the importance of clean water infrastructure, as well as Congressional efforts to address the challenges posed by PFAS and other emerging contaminants to water systems. Congressman David Valadao (R-CA) spoke of the challenges his home state of California and other western states face as drought conditions persist. Undersecretary of Agriculture for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small spoke of the Department of Agriculture’s water development and conservation efforts in rural communities throughout the country. And Navis Bermudez, Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water spoke of EPA’s efforts implementing IIJA resources, as well as ongoing efforts to revise the current definition of “Waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act.
In conjunction with Water Week, the Value of Water Campaign released the results of its seventh annual national poll—The Value of Water Index. The poll annually tracks voters’ opinions and concerns around water infrastructure, climate, the environment, and other water issues. This year, the poll also asked questions related to passage and implementation of IIJA.
When asked how familiar they were with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law or IIJA that passed last year, only 11 percent said very familiar and 37 percent said somewhat familiar, for a total of 48 percent having some confidence that they knew the bill. Forty-nine percent said they were not familiar with the bill.
Once given a factual paragraph about the contents of the bill, focusing on its $55 billion for water infrastructure, 75 percent of respondents approved of the bill, with 48 percent strongly approving. Support cut across all ages, races, genders, and political ideologies, with 95 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of Independents, and 56 percent of Republicans supporting the investments in water. Notably, 65 percent of voters said they would view an elected official who supported water infrastructure investments more favorably.
The poll found that voters’ trust in their local water infrastructure has diminished, dropping from 86 percent of voters saying the water infrastructure in their local community is very good or somewhat good in 2016 to 74 percent in 2022. There was a drop in confidence in the nation’s water infrastructure, with 59 percent of voters ranking it as very good or somewhat good in 2016 and only 41 percent saying that today. Simultaneously, the number of voters saying the nation’s water infrastructure was in bad shape increased over the same period, from 34 percent in 2016 to 41 percent in 2022.
The Value of Water Campaign educates about how water is essential, invaluable, and in need of investment. Spearheaded by leaders in the water industry, the Value of Water Campaign seeks to build public and political will for investment in America’s water infrastructure. Learn more by visiting the Value of Water Campaign website. Read the full results of the Value of Water Index here.