Duckworth touts drinking water infrastructure funds in bipartisan bill

The bipartisan infrastructure package signed Monday by President BidenJoe BidenManchin to vote to nix Biden's vaccine mandate for larger businesses Congress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight Senate cuts deal to clear government funding bill MORE contains a bill streamlining funding for water infrastructure projects, a provision that its sponsor, Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthOvernight Defense & National Security — Austin mandates vaccine for Guardsmen Biden signs four bills aimed at helping veterans Wisconsin senators ask outsiders not to exploit parade attack 'for their own political purposes' MORE (D-Ill.), hopes will mean “a difference made in people’s lives every day.”

In an interview with The Hill Tuesday, Duckworth called the measure in question, the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021, “the backbone of all the water infrastructure in this larger bill.” The provision includes $15 billion in direct payments to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund for Lead Service Line Replacement, which Duckworth told The Hill is “historic.”

Grant funds allocated for similar purposes in the past were never replenished after they were exhausted, Duckworth said, and as a result, “you’ve got all of these municipalities, all of these states, with water projects, but because that fund was never authorized at a higher level, it never has enough money to fund all the projects.”

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The direct payments in the bill, Duckworth added, will mean “you’re going to see a difference made in people’s lives every day” as soon as the beginning of 2022. She pointed to communities like Cahokia Heights, Ill., the site of ongoing sewer issues to which it has already committed $30 million. “The local community has been asking for help, there’s a grant request in there — that’ll get funded and you’re going to see the project move right away,” she said.

Duckworth, the first woman wheelchair user elected to Congress, noted that fixing gaps in the nation’s water infrastructure are vital to disability justice as well.

“You’re talking about communities that in many cases already are vulnerable to health issues,” she said. “With the wastewater piece, that really becomes oftentimes an environmental justice issue ... if you live in an environmental justice community, your municipality has never been able to raise the money to do this.”

“Anything that affects people’s health in a negative way is exponentially more harmful to members of the disability community,” she added. “Whether it’s water, whether it’s access to trains, whether it’s an ability to move around freely on all of our infrastructure.”

Biden himself highlighted provisions in the bill replacing all lead pipes in the country in a signing ceremony Monday. Lead contamination of drinking water has become a more visible environmental issue in recent years because of the ongoing fallout from the Flint, Mich., water crisis, which exposed about 99,000 residents to lead. A Michigan judge approved a $626 million settlement in the case last week.