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The Flint Effect

"Water infrastructure remains the only major category of infrastructure without a dedicated revenue source." - Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO of AGC

February 16, 2016

 Inside Flint drinking water pipes showing iron corrosion and rust.

Photo credit: Min Tang and Kelsey Pieper / Flint Water Study

It's a sad circumstance when it takes a tragedy to get our attention, but the uproar about the poisonous water in Flint, Michigan has caught the ear of lawmakers in Washington who are - finally- starting to put some ideas into action.

The U.S. water infrastructure is falling behind due to declining federal funding. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the nation’s wastewater and drinking water infrastructure a grade of “D” in their most recent report card. Clean water needs are estimated to be nearly $15 billion a year, appropriations for clean water infrastructure have averaged less than over $2 billion a year since 2000.  Drinking water infrastructure is in no better shape. The EPA estimates that we need to invest over $19 billion annually to ensure the provision of safe tap water, while Congress appropriates less than $1 billion.

Representatives Earl Blumenauer, John Duncan and Richard Hanna have introduced the Water Investment Trust Fund Act, a bipartisan bill that will provide a source of revenue to help states replace, repair and rehabilitate critical clean drinking water facilities.

The Water Infrastructure Trust Fund Act allows businesses to choose to place a small label on their products indicating their commitment to protecting America’s clean water, contributing $0.03 to the Water Infrastructure Trust Fund for each unit bearing the label. The Trust Fund revenue will be distributed to the states as grants and loans through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) to help public water systems finance wastewater and drinking water infrastructure projects.

American communities suffered more than 240,000 water main breaks and saw overflowing combined sewer systems in 2015. "Water infrastructure is a local issue – from a giant sinkhole in Gresham, Oregon, to poisoned water in Flint, Michigan. For too long, we’ve let critical water systems simply fall apart, just because it’s out of sight,” said Blumenauer.

The Act also calls for an EPA study on water pricing and affordability for low-income populations, one of the primary factors that led to the Flint water situation. Flint had been buying water from Detroit, which was treated with a corrosion-inhibiting additive deemed necessary for distribution through old pipes, until it became too expensive for Flint's managers taste. Instead, the officials chose to use local, cheaper water from the Flint River which has no additive to protect the drinking water from toxic pipe materials leaching into the water flow.

Source: ASCE

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