Prioritizing investment in water infrastructure
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President Trump has called for greater attention to our nation’s infrastructure, and rightfully so. Investing in infrastructure allows local governments to plan for the long-term, puts men and women back to work, and spurs economic growth.

Yet, it is not simply our nation’s roads, bridges, airports and railways that desperately need attention. As Congress works to improve infrastructure, we must be mindful of the need to strengthen water infrastructure and ensure that systems nationwide are able to adapt to meet growing regional needs.

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From harmful algal blooms in lakes, to bursting water pipes and sewer problems in cities, to aging filtration systems — our nation faces water infrastructure challenges like never before. Communities small and large are confronting problems that are the result of aging infrastructure and inadequate funding at all levels of government.We must act.  Each day that we allow our nation’s water infrastructure to deteriorate further, we risk public health catastrophes like the one in Flint, Mich. We risk economic growth held back because of limited availability of water for manufacturing and business. We risk greater cost to taxpayers in the form of bursting pipes, emergency water shutdowns and repairs.

We must act. Each day that we allow our nation’s water infrastructure to deteriorate further, we risk public health catastrophes like the one in Flint, Mich. We risk economic growth held back because of limited availability of water for manufacturing and business. We risk greater cost to taxpayers in the form of bursting pipes, emergency water shutdowns and repairs.

As the president and Congress consider proposals to address our nation’s infrastructure backlog, I will fight as a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to ensure water infrastructure receives the attention it deserves. 

First, I recognize the importance of providing resources to municipalities — rural and urban, small and large. That’s why I worked with colleagues from both sides of the aisle and every region of the country through the appropriations process to fight for the primary federal program that assists state and local governments with water infrastructure needs — the Drinking Water and the Clean Water State Revolving Funds. These programs have provided billions in interest-free loans and grants since their creations. The demands for these programs are skyrocketing — and I believe their funding must be increased.

Separately, I co-led an effort to increase funding for the Department of Agriculture Water and Sewer Loan and Grant Program, which provides loans with reasonable terms, as well as grants, to small and rural communities to develop wastewater and drinking water infrastructure. As part of this effort, we also asked for increased funding to provide technical assistance to small communities to help with water regulation compliance and to provide personnel to assist small communities with source water protection plans.

Next, threats to our drinking water must be continually monitored and confronted. In the Finger Lakes Region of New York in my district and in watersheds nationwide, we face a severe and mounting scourge: harmful algal blooms. While it is unclear what causes toxic algal blooms, they present severe health risks to humans and aquatic life. For that reason, research into the environmental and health concerns associated with algal blooms is vital.

The House has acted to require the federal government to lay out a plan to better deal with algal blooms, and I led an effort requesting that Congress fully fund the Toxic Substances Hydrology Account to research these outbreaks and find ways of mitigating them. Ridding our drinking water systems and watersheds of these contaminants is essential for the health of our environment and future generations.

The problems we face with harmful algal blooms and watershed restoration have been experienced by communities around the northeast and throughout the Great Lakes region. With this in mind, Congress created the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in 2010 to assist with various needs, including major cleanups, invasive species control, habitat restoration for native species, and pollution research and prevention. My district has been a beneficiary of this program, which applies not only to the Great Lakes themselves, but also their surrounding regions. I have called for the permanent reauthorization of this program and was glad funding was included for it in the spending package that passed Congress earlier this month.

As Congress moves forward to address the infrastructure needs of this country, I am mindful that we must keep spending in check and act carefully to make investments. As an indispensable public health and economic necessity, water infrastructure deserves to be prioritized. Each of these efforts will help leverage private financing, and create economic growth, while protecting access to clean water and restoring our natural resources at a relatively low cost to taxpayers.

The priorities I’ve outlined are just a start. Strengthened water systems must remain a priority as we work to repair our nation’s infrastructure, and I will fight for that in Congress. 

Katko represents New York’s 24th District and is a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.