Note: This blog is part of a periodic series of updates from Don Jodrey, the Alliance’s Director of Federal Government Relations, with his view on Great Lakes policy from Washington, DC.

Don Jodrey
Don Jodrey, Director of Federal Government Relations

A call to increase drinking water and wastewater infrastructure funding was near the top of the Alliance’s annual list of federal legislative priorities. And now the issue is front and center in Washington.

Before I share a rundown of where legislation stands, first a quick refresher on the issue. Communities across the Great Lakes region continue to grapple with crumbling, antiquated drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, which includes drinking water and sewage treatment plants and the pipes that carry water to and from our homes. It’s not just a Great Lakes problem. Our nation’s drinking water infrastructure is woefully in need of repair. In 2021, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s drinking water system a “C minus” and said that much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life. But, fixing infrastructure is expensive. The eight Great Lakes states need $188 billion over the next 20 years for improvements, upgrades, and repairs to this infrastructure

Back in March, President Biden unveiled a massive infrastructure spending proposal – the American Jobs Plan – and his FY22 budget also includes investments in drinking and wastewater infrastructure. The President’s budget and legislative proposals respond to our advocacy on behalf of Great Lakes citizens who deserve clean and affordable drinking water and clean water for recreation. The key question now is, how will the Congress respond to the President’s efforts to invest in fixing our massive infrastructure problems?

The initial legislative action in Congress is encouraging and it’s notable that one of the first bi-partisan bills to pass the United States Senate last month centered on water infrastructure needs. The Senate’s Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021 passed the Senate 89-2 and proposes to spend $35 billion over five years to upgrade drinking and wastewater infrastructure around the country and to target communities most in need in doing so. The Senate’s proposed $35 billion investment is a good first step to address the needs of the Great Lakes, but we know that more is necessary. The bill still has hurdles before it can become law as it has only passed the Senate.

The House of Representatives is also tackling infrastructure legislation. In an encouraging development, two committees in the House are currently considering larger water-related investments. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2021 and the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act together propose to invest $101 billion in drinking and wastewater infrastructure. Committee hearings and markups – the process by which legislators debate bills by suggesting rewrites or amendments – are underway.

But where is all this going and how will it come together? The President’s American Jobs Plan proposed $111 billion for drinking and wastewater infrastructure spending over eight years, and that amount is much larger than either the Senate or House legislation considered to date. The President’s plan is being met with some resistance in Congress, with concerns being expressed by some House and Senate members over cost and scope of the plans. It is very much a subject of legislative negotiation and discussion with compromises still to be reached. But as with any domestic investment of this size and scale, this negotiation is to be expected.

So we remain engaged in the legislative process to inform Congress of our water needs. And, you can too. Hundreds of Great Lakes advocates sent letters to their Members of Congress in late April and it’s not too late to weigh in. It’s important that Congress hear from people like you as they debate these bills. We make it easy for you to send a letter in our Great Lakes Action Center.