A bipartisan bill to boost funding for states' water infrastructure passed the Senate 89-2 Thursday, sending it to the House of Representatives.
The measure, the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021, would put $35 billion toward state water infrastructure programs. It authorizes gradual increases in funding for state water infrastructure systems from fiscal 2022 through 2026, beginning with $2.4 billion and ending with $3.25 billion.
The bill, written by Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), was co-sponsored by Senate Environment & Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), ranking member Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and committee members Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). The two "no" votes were Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah).
The bill also establishes an operational sustainability program for smaller water systems such as those under the jurisdiction of Native American tribes, and authorizes $50 million annually for fiscal years 2022-2026.
It also creates a separate grant program for large and midsize drinking water systems, with 50 percent of the funding required to go to systems that serve between 10,000 and 100,000 people. The other half must be used for systems serving populations of at least 100,000.
The bill would nearly double funding for grants aimed at removing lead from drinking water, from $60 million to $100 million per year. The Biden administration, as part of its infrastructure plan, has pledged to replace the entirety of the nation’s lead pipes. Lead in drinking water has been linked to brain and neurological damage in children, including in the case of Flint, Mich., which saw its water supply contaminated by lead.
It would also require an Environmental Protection Agency analysis of the history of its fund distribution to disadvantaged and minority communities under the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act. The agency would be required to analyze possible improvements to the distribution and submit a full report of its findings to Congress.
“We know that access to safe, reliable and healthful water isn’t a blue state or a red state issue. … I oftentimes say that bipartisan solutions are lasting solutions,” Carper said on the Senate floor Thursday. “That’s how I think we should approach almost all of our work here in the Senate — by reaching out to our colleagues across the aisle to create lasting solutions to the problems facing our nation. The bill before us today is a product of that partnership.”
“This bill also represents the solid work that comes out of good-faith negotiations. I’m hopeful that as we move forward with our work on other infrastructure priorities that we remember this moment,” Capito said in a statement.