WASHINGTON, DC, March 22, 2017 – As the Trump administration pursues plans to gut federal regulations and encourage corporate exploitation of drinking water through privatization, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) reintroduced legislation today that would protect and bolster community water and sewer systems. The Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act would make water service safer, more affordable and more accessible in the U.S. by providing $35 billion a year to improve drinking water and wastewater services. It would ensure a steady, dedicated source of federal funding for community water and wastewater systems, distributed through the existing State Revolving Funds (SRFs), and it would help replace lead service lines going into homes, update lead pipes and plumbing in schools, construct or improve household drinking water wells and upgrade home septic systems.
The WATER Act is cosponsored by: Reps. Cheri Bustos (IL-17), Yvette Clarke (NY-09), Keith Ellison (MN-05), Dwight Evans (PA-02), Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Hank Johnson (GA-04), Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01), Betty McCollum (MN-04), James McGovern (MA-02), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Peter Welch (VT-At Large).
“Today, we mark World Water Day 2017—where we focus on how important this fundamental resource is to life itself. Around the world, people struggle with access to safe, affordable water—sadly America is no different. Thousands of communities depend on water pipes that are a century old, unsafe, and need to be replaced,” Congressman Conyers said. “That is why I’m introducing the WATER Act of 2017, which funds a massive investment in our public water utilities and creates thousands of jobs in every community. It would help places like Flint, where lead has made the water undrinkable—or Detroit, where outdated infrastructure makes water unaffordable. In the richest country in the world—safe, affordable water in every home is a basic human right. The WATER Act would make that principle a reality for every American.”
On a per capita basis, federal funding has declined 82 percent since its peak in 1977. The federal government spent $76.27 per person on water services in 1977, but by 2014 that support had fallen to $13.68 per person. Water utilities must spend at least $697 billion over the next twenty years to provide safe water and keep waterways clean. Without adequate federal funding, communities must compensate by raising service rates. But water rates are already unaffordable for an estimated nearly 12 percent of households in the U.S. In the next five years, one in three households could be unable to afford their water bills.
“Lead-tainted water, service shutoffs and higher rates are all consequences of infrastructure that is outdated and under-funded,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. “Trump’s infrastructure plan will not help the problem—just embolden Wall Street and corporations to exploit our water. The WATER Act is exactly what we need to fix our water infrastructure while creating jobs and bringing justice to the millions of people in the U.S. who do not have adequate water service.”
“Our members work tirelessly to provide access to clean, affordable water to the communities that need it most. Decades of disinvestment and deferred maintenance in low-income communities that rely on public water now requires action from this Congress. This plan invests in publicly-owned and operated water services, creates good jobs and provides relief to working families facing rising water costs,” said Steve Kreisberg, Director of Research and Collective Bargaining at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Unaffordable water service can tear families apart. Lack of running water can be a reason that parents and other guardians lose custody of children. Lack of water access in the home may be considered child neglect in 21 states and water shutoffs have led to children being taken from their homes under child protection laws.
“The ongoing water crises in Detroit and Flint highlight the critical need for reinvesting in our nation’s water infrastructure,” said Monica Lewis-Patrick, President of We the People of Detroit. “It is unconscionable that so many Michiganders are being denied their human right to safe, affordable drinking water service because their water is unsafe to drink or because their water bills are unaffordable. The WATER Act provides a real solution, and would help ensure that all people have access to water service that is safe and affordable.”
“Clean, safe water is so basic to human health and healthy communities that every Congressional member ought to support Mr. Conyers’ work to pass legislative action and protections,” said Donna Smith, Executive Director of Progressive Democrats of America. “Water is not the exclusive right of privileged communities nor can the nation afford to ignore taking action.”
Nationwide, over 6 million lead service lines deliver water to millions of people. Replacing them could cost up to $30 billion, and failure to replace lead pipes puts people at risk of lead poisoning. Overall, some 11,200 community water systems have lead service lines, some of which provide water to schools. The WATER Act would allow states to issue grants to replace lead service lines and would establish a School Drinking Water Improvement Grant program to provide funding to public primary and secondary schools that wish to test, repair, replace or install the infrastructure necessary for drinking water foundations or bottle filling stations.
“From Flint to Pittsburgh, the private water industry has consistently put its profits over the needs of communities. The WATER Act dispels the myth that we must turn to private corporations to fund our water infrastructure. It would provide Americans with a path forward to the best solution—robust federal funding for our public water systems,” said Lauren DeRusha, Associate Campaign Director of Challenge Corporate Control of Water at Corporate Accountability International.
The WATER Act funds infrastructure projects by closing a loophole on offshore corporate profits. Currently, if a U.S. multinational corporation keeps profits offshore, it is exempt from paying taxes on them. The WATER Act would make these profits subject to U.S. tax in the year they are generated. The bill would ensure that all funds would go to publicly owned water systems, rather than for-profit providers, and would create an estimated 700,000 to 945,000 new middle-class jobs. The WATER Act also requires that all iron and steel materials are American-made.
Additionally, the WATER Act would support rural and indigenous communities that often struggle to provide adequate water service. The bill creates a new grant program to help households install, repair, replace and upgrade septic tanks and drainage fields. The legislation also amends the existing tribal grant program to increase the amount of assistance from 2 percent of Drinking Water SRF funds to 3 percent.
“The Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) applauds this comprehensive effort to improve our nation’s aging water infrastructure and authorize additional federal resources to assist small water systems and rural communities,” said RCAP Executive Director, Robert Stewart. “We thank Congressman Conyers for his leadership on this important issue and for addressing America’s substantial water infrastructure needs. This legislation is integral to achieving long-term economic competitiveness of rural communities and sustainability of water systems throughout the United States, while ensuring that all Americans have access to clean, safe and affordable drinking water.”
The following groups have endorsed the WATER Act: 350 CT; 9to5, National Association of Working Women; Advocates 4 Baxter; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise; Alliance for Democracy; Amigos Bravos; Center for Biological Diversity; Circle Pines Center; Cities of Peace Detroit; Clean Water for North Carolina; Collaborative Center for Justice, Inc.; Colorado People’s Alliance (COPA); Corporate Accountability International; Corporations v Democracy National Issue Committee of the Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom; Daily Kos; Denver Justice and Peace Committee; Detroit Jews for Justice; EarthCare; EarthJustice; EcoWorks; FLOW (For Love of Water); Food & Water Watch; Friends of the Earth; Genesee County Hispanic Latino Collaborative Centro Informativo La Placita Information Center; Gila Resources Information Project; Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit; Hip Hop Caucus; In the Public Interest; International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW); Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation; Michigan Coalition for Human Rights; Michigan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Network; Michigan United; MichUHCAN; National Council of Gray Panthers Networks; National Lawyers Guild, Michigan/Detroit Chapter; National Lawyers Guild, National; National Nurses United; New Mexico Environmental Law Center; People Demanding Action; People’s Action; Program on Human Rights in the Global Economy, Northeastern University School of Law; Progressive Democrats of America; Public Citizen; Raritan Headwaters; Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP); ReFund America Project; Restore the Delta; Santa Clara Law – International Human Rights Clinic; Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community; Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment; Tsis’ Na Bighan Bee Project; United Church of Christ, Detroit Metropolitan Association Social Justice Mission Team; US Human Rights Network; Voices for Earth Justice; Water Alliance; Water You Fighting For; WaterAid America; We the People of Detroit; WildEarth Guardians; Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom, U.S. Section, Earth Democracy Issue Group.