Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition urges Congress, Biden Administration to act to protect drinking water and halt harmful pollution – including toxic lead, sewage, and other chemicals – from harming people, communities.

ANN AROBR, MICH. (April 7, 2021)—Lead pipes that poison drinking water and threaten the health of people and families. Sewage contamination that closes beaches and hurts local economies. Skyrocketing water bills that makes water unaffordable for millions of people. The problems stemming from our nation’s inadequate and crumbling water infrastructure are well-known. Over the last few weeks, several approaches have been proposed by the Biden Administration and leaders in the U.S. House and Senate to boost federal investment in the nation’s drinking water and sewage treatment infrastructure.

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition and its allies are urging federal elected officials to invest at least $30 billion this fiscal year in the nation’s water infrastructure to protect the drinking water and health of local communities, as well as the health of iconic waters like the Great Lakes.

“Millions of people in the Great Lakes region and across the country are counting on the U.S. Congress and the Biden Administration to act with urgency to protect our communities from the serious threats posed by toxic lead, sewage, and other serious pollution,” said Laura Rubin, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “We have solutions, and it is time to use them before the problems get worse and more expensive to solve.”

For each Great Lakes state—Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—see how much money is needed to fix drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in this chart to the right.

GLR Investment Needs

GLR Investment Needs: Click to Enlarge

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition and its partners are asking for:

  • $10 billion per year to fix drinking water infrastructure to provide safe drinking water, prioritizing grants to disadvantaged communities to make water more affordable;
  • $10 billion per year to fix wastewater and stormwater treatment infrastructure to prevent sewage contamination and overflows, prioritizing grants to vulnerable communities and promoting the use of resilient natural infrastructure;
  • $4.5 billion per year to replace lead service lines that transport water into homes to protect the health of people and communities;
  • $500 million per year to help states and tribes prevent pollution into local waters;
  • $400 million per year to reduce sewage overflows;
  • $250 million per year to help states and tribes maintain and enforce safe drinking water standards;
  • $200 million per year to help reduce polluted runoff from farms and cities; and,
  • $60 million in targeted funding to help small and disadvantaged communities to provide safe drinking water.

“From the Great Lakes to Long Island Sound, New York’s aging and failing water infrastructure is endangering our drinking water, health, and economic well-being,” said Brian Smith, associate executive director at Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “As President Biden and Congress take steps to invest in America’s infrastructure, it is imperative that we seize this opportunity to boost investments in drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. These federal investments will protect our communities from dangerous pollution, ensure affordable drinking water, and create good jobs when we need it most.”

“Now is the time to make a significant investment in our water infrastructure to protect our drinking water, public health, jobs, and prosperity,” said Erma Leaphart, conservation organizer for the Sierra Club Great Lakes Program. “A thriving society must have well-functioning infrastructure.  Our lives and way of life depend on it.”

“This is a good start to address the massive water infrastructure deficit we face in Minnesota and the Great Lakes region,” said Deanna White, state director of Clean Water Action Minnesota. “We are excited to see the $45 billion to replace all lead service lines. These pipes are the largest source of lead poisoning in drinking water, and we need to ensure that all communities, especially those left out in the past, can access the funding to help ensure safe and affordable drinking water for everyone.”

“Lead poison causes many cognitive and health issues,” said Stephan Witherspoon, northeast Minnesota organizer, Minnesota Environmental Partnership. “Youth, marginalized, and people-of-color communities are most impacted. Dealing with this major issue can save lives and ensure this silent killer does not affect future generations.”

“Across the nation there is an urgent need for federal leadership to equitably fund the repair and enhancement of water infrastructure,” said Brenda Coley, co-executive director of Milwaukee Water Commons. “It is not enough just to write the check when we talk about equity. We must be intentional to include actions that focus on addressing environmental injustice and that eliminate systemic barriers to accessing water sector employment. These elements should not be construed as add-ons to infrastructure financing. Rather, they must be understood as investments in overcoming nationwide segregation and marginalization from wealth building, environmental health, and public health that would otherwise limit the impact of this funding. These actions must be measurable and data driven and they should have the ability to be tracked and reported on.”

“Aging infrastructure threatens the health and safety of the very water resources Ohioans depend on for their drinking water, recreational enjoyment, and economic livelihoods,” said Pete Bucher, managing director of water policy for the Ohio Environmental Council. “We applaud the Biden Administration’s proposed investments in our nation’s drinking water and sewage treatment infrastructure. And we call on our elected leaders to ensure Ohio communities—especially low-income and communities of color—have the resources they need to improve water infrastructure across the state. Everyone deserves access to clean, safe, and affordable water. No exceptions.”

“The American Jobs Plan is a historic opportunity for the country to invest in resilient communities and natural resources,” said Marnie Urso, senior policy director, Audubon Great Lakes. “Restoring the Great Lakes will help bolster the regional economy and investing in resilient water infrastructure is needed as climate change drives extreme flooding and sea-level rise. Audubon is encouraged that Great Lakes restoration is recognized as a smart investment, with diverse stakeholder support, the will benefit birds, wildlife, and the communities that depend on these critical resources.”

Background:

The Great Lakes states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin face more than $188 billion in water infrastructure repairs and upgrades over the next 20 years to meet clean water objectives and to protect the health of local communities, according to the U.S. EPA. Further, between 6 million and 10 million homes continue to receive their drinking water through lead service lines, posing a serious risk to their health. Last month, in a scathing assessment of the nation’s infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers issued its national scorecard, granting a “C-” for drinking water infrastructure, “D” for stormwater infrastructure, and “D+” for wastewater infrastructure.

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition has long championed a much more robust federal investment in our nation’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure to protect the health of people and to make water more affordable. Researchers estimate that by 2022, 1-in-3 Americans will have a difficult time paying their water bills. The growing water affordability crisis can be directly tied to a decades-long disinvestment by the federal government in water infrastructure. In 1977, investments from the federal government made up 63 percent of total spending on water infrastructure. By 2014, the federal government’s contribution had dropped to 9 percent.

With this lack of federal investment, local communities have been unable to keep up with the large maintenance costs for ageing systems. Many projects get delayed, and, in other cases, the costs of large infrastructure projects are passed on to rate-payers—leading to skyrocketing water bills. In some communities, water bills have tripled over the last 10 years, and when individuals cannot pay their water bills they face water shutoffs, which jeopardizes their health and the health of their families.

Since 2004, the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition has been harnessing the collective power of more than 160 groups representing millions of people, whose common goal is to restore and protect the Great Lakes. Learn more at www.healthylakes.org or follow us on Twitter @healthylakes.