Over 100 water and wastewater utility managers, operators and engineers visited Washington, D.C. this week to advocate for more federal investment in water infrastructure. Lead by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) and several other sponsoring organizations, including the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) the week provided an opportunity for water industries to join together with a single voice and stress the importance of providing clean water services to the public and the role of the federal government. On Tuesday, water experts took to Capitol Hill to discuss federal water issues, including responding to the Flint, Michigan water crises, the need to increase federal water infrastructure appropriations and educate lawmakers on newly authorized but stalled financing programs such as the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA).
Water infrastructure has become a hot topic on Capitol Hill over the last several months as the story of Flint, Michigan shot into the national spotlight after that city was found to have exceptionally high levels of lead in its drinking water. Lead exposure is extremely dangerous to children. The crises ignited a national conversation about water infrastructure systems and the role of local and federal government in ensuring the systems are safe and well maintained. Other water issues from around the country discussed this week included alleviating drought in the west, managing combined sewer overflows and storm water management in mid-sized, sprawling cities.
To alleviate drought, many experts have argued for investments in desalination, water reuse and adding storage capacity in western reservoirs. To combat combined sewer overflows, which the EPA recently estimated will cost nearly $50 billion to fix, some cities are investing in green infrastructure projects. Green infrastructure can help reduce both CSO and stormwater issues by mitigating the amount of stormwater entering a combined system, by letting the water naturally infiltrate where it falls with the use of bioswales and natural retention areas.
Water week is timely this year not only because the need to shine a light on the crisis in Flint, but also because Congress is considering a range of options to address water infrastructure issues in the upcoming Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), slated to be marked up by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) at the end of the month.