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Largest U.S. water associations urge President-elect Barack Obama to adopt a 'National Agenda for Drinking Water'

WaterWebster.org Staff Report

November 21, 2008

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The nation's largest water associations are urging President-elect Barack Obama to set a 'National Agenda for Drinking Water' that would include immediate and longterm infrastructure improvements and promote research into climate change and emerging contamination sources, such as personal care products and pharmaceuticals.

In their proposal, the associations also oppose any federal tax on water.

The 16-page booklet was prepared by the American Water Works Association, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the National Association of Water Companies and the National Rural Water Association. Together, the four groups represent most of the nation's public and private drinking water and wastewater companies and utilities.

"Because drinking water system improvement projects are uniquely suited to
both stimulate the economy by creating jobs and to improve public health by spreading access to clean and safe drinking water, we urge you to support a dedicated and substantial appropriation for such projects as part of the stimulus package," the associations wrote to Obama.

The booklet  termed the $1 billion included in the House stimulus bill a "good start"  but said "much more money is needed to adequately fund the wide range of ready-to-go projects across the country impacted by the credit crisis."

The groups also urged the incoming administration to provide equal funding for drinking water and wastewater projects and to offer longterm financing for water programs.

"The basic responsibility for building and maintaining water infrastructure is and always has been local, and more than 98 percent of the nation’s investment in water infrastructure has been at the local level," the groups said. However, they added, many communities are trying to replace water mains and pipes that are more than 100 years old and at or near the end of their useful economic
life.

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Congressional Budget Office and others
have estimated a 'gap' of hundreds of billions of dollars between current levels and needed levels of investment in water and wastewater infrastructure," the groups reported.

They urged the new administration to reject efforts to impose a "federal water tax, charge or levy against a local water system or its customers."

And they asked Obama to support "science-based processes for selecting contaminants for regulation and for setting standards." What they don't want, the groups said, was Congress picking and choosing which contaminants to regulate and how.

"A particular issue we face concerns emerging contaminants, that is, those that are just being discovered and analyzed in drinking water," said the report. "These include personal care and pharmaceutical products and their breakdown products and metabolites, which are found in many source waters and in some treated drinking water at extremely low concentrations."

"At this time," the report added, "there is no evidence of human health effects associated with the extremely low concentrations that may be found in treated drinking water. However, more research is needed on both sources and
possible health effects. Also needed is Presidential leadership in reducing these
contaminants at the source to the maximum extent practicable. This problem must be addressed with decisions based on science, not emotion."

Climate change, the report said, particularly "changing precipitation patterns across the country may result in more severe drought or floods, a change in snow pack amount and elevation, varying stream flow patterns, and rising sea
levels along the coasts. Because the exact effects of climate change on water
resources are still uncertain and will vary by region, drinking water utilities responsible for managing water resources face daunting challenges.
"

The report recommended the Obama administration dedicate funds to assess the impacts of climate change on drinking water resources and assist drinking water utilities in adapting to climate change.

In terms of security, the report said the associations were "concerned about proposals that would empower the federal government to force local water systems to adopt so-called 'inherently safer technologies' (IST) that are perceived by some as superior alternatives to utilities’ chosen disinfection methods.

"We believe that broad IST mandates from the federal government would fail to recognize the complex process that each utility conducts to choose the best water treatment method, based on numerous locally unique factors."

The booklet included several recommendations for water system security, including:


• Federal officials should not have expansive authority to close drinking water
plants for non-compliance with certain regulatory guidelines. While we agree that
genuine security and pub
lic health vulnerabilities must be quickly addressed, the
suspension of drinking water service introduces significant new risks to public
sanitation, health, and fire protection. Adequate regulations and procedures
currently exist to address instances where water itself may be a hazard, so we
urge you to reject new federal authority to order water systems to shut down.

• Congress should avoid the establishment of duplicative water security programs
overseen by both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of
Homeland Security. Having more than one federal agency possess authority
over water security would impair the ability of drinking water systems to fulfill their missions, because simultaneous compliance with multiple regulations could be
difficult or even impossible. You should ensure that one agency continues to
have oversight of the physical security of water utilities, but without having the
authority to interfere with local water treatment methods.

The associations also urged the Obama administration to retain strict controls on vulnerability assessments and other security information that water agencies are required to report to federal authorities.

Dan Hartnett, manager for legislative affairs for the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, said a proposal introduced in Congress last year "in our estimation, weakened those protections."

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©2008 WaterWebster.org

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