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Tonko, Pallone and Members of the Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Introduce AQUA Act to Update Safe Drinking Water Act and Help Local Water Systems Avoid Infrastructure Disasters, Big and Small

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Washington, February 29, 2016 | Sean Magers (202-225-5076) | comments
“Simply put, communities big and small are not getting what they need from Washington, and Congress has to give them the tools they need to solve the problems they have today before they become disasters tomorrow,” said Tonko
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Today, Representatives Paul D. Tonko (NY-20) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-6) introduced the AQUA Act, which updates the Safe Drinking Water Act to significantly increase funding authorization levels for local communities with water infrastructure deficiencies. A complete section-by-section summary and full language of the bill is attached.

“The Flint water crisis has brought attention to our nation’s aging water infrastructure and what can happen when we try to cut corners in state budgets, but the discussion cannot end in Michigan. Cash-strapped local governments struggle each year to find sufficient funds for repair and replacement of essential water infrastructure. Between the steady decline in federal funding and the growing need for more support from Washington, greater burden has fallen upon local governments at a time when they simply cannot shoulder it. From simple water main breaks that bring everyday life to a screeching halt to larger disasters that harm a generation of lives, it’s well past time to get real about the funding levels that are needed to bring our water infrastructure into the 21st century,” said Tonko.

"Our water infrastructure has not been sufficiently funded for years, and we're now seeing the tragic results in Flint and in other communities around the nation, including New Jersey," said Pallone.  “This bill devotes much-needed funding to local governments so they can repair and replace aging water systems to ensure people have access to safe and clean drinking water. I applaud Congressman Tonko for his long-standing leadership on this issue, and look forward to working with him to move this important legislation through Congress."

The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF), the primary source of federal funding for drinking water infrastructure projects, was created by the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996. Congress has neglected to reauthorize the program since its initial authorization expired in 2003. It continues to provide assistance to states because it has been included in annual appropriations and budget deals. Because of this, the program remains in danger of being eliminated each year and is funded at an outdated and inappropriate 13-year old level.

“Simply put, communities big and small are not getting what they need from Washington, and Congress has to give them the tools they need to solve the problems they have today before they become disasters tomorrow,” added Tonko.

Pallone is the Ranking Member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Tonko serves as the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, which has jurisdiction over the Safe Drinking Water Act.


Section 11. Authorization of Appropriations for the Drinking Water SRF

The Aqua Act reauthorizes the Drinking Water SRF for five years at higher levels in order to meet the growing needs gap. The first year of funding is aggressive, and is based on levels provided with passage of the Recovery Act in 2009, corrected for inflation ($3.13 billion). The authorization then increases by 15 percent annually going forward.

Authorization Levels in the bill:

·         FY 2017 -- $3.13 billion

·         FY 2018 -- $3.6 billion

·         FY 2019 -- $4.14 billion

·         FY 2020 -- $4.8 billion

·         FY 2021 -- $5.5 billion

Section 19. Risks of Drought to Drinking Water

Section 19 represents language from Representative Jerry McNerney’s (CA-9) bill, H.R. 1709. This section requires the Administrator to develop a strategic plan for assessing and managing the risks of drought to drinking water. The Administrator would provide guidance to public water systems about monitoring and mitigating risks of drought to these systems. The Administrator will be required to work with other federal agencies and stakeholders to coordinate information and determine where gaps in information exist.

Section 20. Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability

This section was authored by Representative Lois Capps (CA-24), and it requires the Administrator to establish a grant program to assist public water systems in improving drinking water resiliency and sustainability. It prioritizes water systems that have been identified as being at the greatest risk of facing negative effects due to hydrological changes. In the face of climate change, drinking water infrastructure will need more financial assistance to invest in resiliency. The bill authorizes $50 million annually for the grant program for fiscal years 2017 through 2021.

Section 21. Lead Service Line Replacement

Section 21 requires the Administrator to establish a grant program to remove lead service lines from public water systems. Lead pipes were banned 30 years ago, but there are an estimated 3.3 to 10 million still in service. Applications would be prioritized if the proposed grant program addresses lead levels in a public water system that has exceeded the lead action level in the past three years, reduces lead in water provided to vulnerable populations, and includes assistance for low-income homeowners. The section also requires the Administrator to provide guidance for public water systems to prepare an inventory of lead service lines in their water system.

This section authorizes $100 million annually for fiscal years 2017 through 2021 for the lead pipe replacement program with up to $10 million set aside to assist low-income homeowners replace privately owned lines.

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