Building Back Better: The Urgent Need for Investment in America’s Wastewater Infrastructure
2167 Rayburn House Office Building and online via videoconferencing
Opening remarks, as prepared, of Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Ranking Member David Rouzer (R-NC) from today’s hearing entitled, “Building Back Better: The Urgent Need for Investment in America’s Wastewater Infrastructure”:
Thank you, Chair Napolitano, and thank you to our witnesses for participating in this hearing today. I’m happy we have such a diverse panel here so that we can gain your perspectives on the issues facing local communities in addressing the Nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure needs. These needs are substantial, and they continue to grow.
In many communities, water and wastewater infrastructure is long past its design life and in need of urgent repair, replacement, and upgrading. As a result, leaks and blockages are all too common across the Nation and represent a massive waste of a vital, and sometimes scarce, resource.
Additionally, the needs are especially urgent for hundreds of communities trying to remedy the problem of combined sewer overflows (or CSOs) and sanitary sewer overflows (or SSOs). Shrinking municipal budgets, insufficient independent financing capabilities, and increasingly burdensome regulations without the necessary Federal support have strained communities’ efforts to address these critical needs. This is especially the case for many of our small and rural communities.
According to EPA, the total documented needs for sustainable wastewater infrastructure, CSO and SSO correction, and stormwater management in our Nation are at least $270 billion over the next 20 years. The needs for drinking water infrastructure drive this figure to more than $600 billion — and these are considered conservative estimates.
In North Carolina alone, $11 billion will be needed for clean water needs such as wastewater treatment systems and sanitary sewers over the next 20 years.
So with talk of a major infrastructure package, today we need to ask the not-so-simple questions: What funding level is both appropriate and realistic? And how are we going to pay for it?
Talking about authorizing enormous dollar amounts is not going to address these needs, since unrealistically high dollar numbers that will never get funded create a false hope and solve nothing. I believe it is going to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to reverse the decline of our Nation’s water infrastructure.
Federal, state, and local investment will be necessary, but cannot be relied upon to solve all our problems.
Instead, we need to move away from “business as usual” and utilize every tool available.
This means searching for new sources of funding, increasing collaboration between the public and private sectors, and improving how Federal regulations are implemented.
We need smarter asset management and increased efficiencies in our water systems, and to achieve that, we need to incentivize the adoption of new and innovative technologies that will cut costs and improve water quality.
In addition, communities – particularly those that are struggling to address their needs and reduce the financial burdens on households – need to be given greater regulatory flexibility, including through the implementation of a vibrant integrated planning and permitting approach, in addressing the compliance mandates that have been imposed on them.
It’s been ten years since EPA developed its first guidance for implementing integrated planning, but EPA has been slow to work with states and communities to develop the most effective and cost-efficient approaches for meeting clean water objectives. Two years ago, legislation that codified EPA’s integrated planning initiative was enacted. EPA now needs to work with the states and effectively implement the initiative to help communities meet their needs in a more cost-efficient manner.
We need to carefully prioritize our investments in water infrastructure to ensure that we are adequately protecting the public health, promoting the economic growth of our communities, and preventing the degradation of the environment.
I look forward to hearing the thoughts from our witnesses today on these issues.