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Who Will Replace Our Century-Old Water Pipes?

Aging pipes are putting our clean drinking water at risk. It’s time to fund the fixes we need to our water systems – and here’s how we can do it.

Jo Miles

 by Food & Water Watch

The water that comes out of your tap is clean, right?

It should be. But in the United States, we can’t afford to keep taking for granted that safe, clean water flows from our taps.

The crisis in Flint, Michigan is the leading edge of a desperate situation for our tap water in communities across the country as our water infrastructure crumbles. That’s why Food & Water Watch has worked with Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) to introduce the WATER Act, one big step to ensure our water’s safety for generations to come.

Federal Water Infrastructure Spending

Protect our clean drinking water – tell your members of Congress to support the WATER Act.

Our pipes are getting old. Most of the water pipes in our communities were built following World War II, and some are over a century old. Too many are still made of lead. As these aging pipes deteriorate, service interruptions will become more common, and lead and other contaminants will leach into our water, putting the health of entire communities in danger – especially children’s health.

Federal Spending on Public Water Infrastructure

But instead of increasing our funding for water infrastructure to deal with this looming need, the federal government has decreased funding sharply – by 82 percent per capita since 1977, traded away in funding cuts and budget negotiations. That’s just irresponsible, and it’s time for Congress to make sure our declining water systems get the repairs they need.

Federal Spending on Public Water Infrastructure

If the WATER Act passes, it will reverse this trend by providing up to $35 billion in dedicated funding each year to keep our water and sewer systems working. Funded entirely by closing corporate tax loopholes, this bill will secure a significant portion of what we need over the next 20 years to protect our drinking water. It will:

  • Support publicly owned and managed water and sewer systems (which on average are more reliable and cost-effective than privately-managed systems) so that no community has to sacrifice their clean water and their residents’ health to budget shortfalls.
  • Provide grants to help homeowners replace lead pipes running to their homes, a costly but essential part of keeping everyone’s water free of lead contamination.
  • Encourage green infrastructure to capture and treat stormwater and runoff.
  • In the process of making all these improvements, create as many as 945,000 jobs.

In addition to providing this much-needed source of funding, the WATER Act would also:

  • Require EPA to coordinate a study about: water affordability; discrimination and civil rights violations by water and sewer providers; public participation in water regionalization efforts; and water shutoffs.
  • Increase technical assistance to rural and small municipalities and tribal governments.
  • Create a new grant program for the repair, replacement or upgrading of septic tanks and drainage fields.
  • Limit Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) funding to publicly owned, operated and managed utilities.
  • Create a new grant program to fund public schools’ testing and replacement of drinking water infrastructure due to lead.
  • Provide SRF funding for grants to owners of private service lines for replacement of lead service lines.
  • Increase funding for grants to tribal governments for drinking water infrastructure.

There’s no time to lose in making this investment in our water. If we ever needed an example of what happens to people and communities when our water infrastructure crumbles, the crisis in Flint has given us a dire one. But Flint is not alone. Experts have called Flint the canary in the coalmine – there are other Flints waiting to happen in communities across the United States.

We can’t let this happen again. Take action to support the WATER Act and protect our water for generations to come.

© 2021 Food & Water Watch

Jo Miles

Jo Miles is the Digital Program Director for Food and Water Watch. 

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