The US House resoundingly approved a $19.4 billion-water bill that could vastly upgrade efforts to improve Great Lakes water quality. Now, how do we get it through the US Senate?
It was 1994 the last time Congress passed a Water Authorization Bill – since then members have had to use earmarks and other mechanisms to get money to localities to update ancient sewer systems, crumbling wastewater facilities and clean up overflows of raw sewage and toxic pollution. But this bill brings together five water quality bills that were consistently passed by the US House and then defeated.
This water bill will provide $13.8 billion over the next half decade to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund for sewage infrastructure updating and repair – this is in addition to the nearly $6 billion provided in the Economic Recovery package for clean water projects. Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn) told the Duluth News Tribune that he considers this a re-stocking of the depleted and neglected State Revolving Fund. There is also an additional $2.5 billion just for our combined sewer overflow problems.
But perhaps one of the most tantalizing items in this legislation is the $750 million it sets aside for the next five years for the Great Lakes Legacy Act. The GLLA funds the clean up of the Areas of Concern where toxic remnants from our industrial past harbor and harm our water, food and livelihoods. This triples the authorization from its current $54 million a year to $150 million a year. Even at its current funding level, appropriators have only been providing around $30 million annually so increasing the authorization should send a positive message to them.
It truly was genius to put all these water bills together and, in particular, the GLLA funding. In the past, when our delegation tried to increase funding it was shot down in the Senate because it looked eerily similar to an earmark. However, putting all the clean water issues into one bill sets that red herring on its head.
The federal spigot is expected to begin flowing in October, if the legislation is approved by the Senate and then appropriated by the appropriation committees as part of the annual federal budget.
“Fully funding these programs to tackle toxic pollution and sewage contamination will be a good first step in the multi-year effort to restore the Great Lakes and revive the economy,” Jill Ryan, executive director of Freshwater Future and co-chair of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, told the Associated Press.
Yep, this bill has it all: essential infrastructure repair, pollution control and it creates thousands of jobs. What is there for the Senate to say no to? Hopefully we will soon be singing the Senate’s praises too – Amen to that!