Infrastructure is on everyone’s mind these days.
How do we define infrastructure?
How much should we spend?
How do we pay for it?
These are some of the many questions that are on people’s minds, but the biggest question is, can Republicans and Democrats actually work together and cut a bipartisan infrastructure deal?
This past week proves that the answer is a resounding yes.
Last Thursday, the Senate passed the bipartisan Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021 (DWWIA).
As the top Republican–also known as the Ranking Member–of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, I worked closely with Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) to craft this meaningful legislation that addresses our country’s aging drinking water and wastewater systems.
DWWIA authorizes more than $35 billion for water resource development projects across the country with a focus on upgrading aging infrastructure.
We worked to ensure this bill addresses the emerging threats of extreme weather events–including those resulting from climate change and cybersecurity vulnerabilities–invests in innovative technologies, and provides assistance to marginalized communities.
All of these things together help communities keep their water safe and clean.
Something I’m particularly proud of is how this bill provides flexibility so both rural and urban areas can best address their needs.
The most significant investments are in the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds – otherwise known as SRFs.
The SRFs maximize authority for the states to determine how best to address drinking and wastewater challenges, utilizing a revolving loan fund to facilitate additional future investments.
For rural states like West Virginia, the bill offers several solutions to their unique water challenges:
First, the bill invests $50 million for those currently served by intractable water systems.
These are systems that service fewer than 1,000 people and have typically been abandoned by the operator.
Towns in the southern coalfields of West Virginia like those in McDowell County have historically struggled with this.
Since many of these households cannot connect to municipal water systems in an economic or technically feasible way, the funding will go to a grant program to install environmentally-sound decentralized wastewater systems.
So, with new septic tanks installed, this grant program will improve quality of life and addresses public health and environmental concerns about straight piping waste into rivers and streams.
Additionally, infrastructure resiliency and sustainability is also a priority in this bill.
In rural areas especially, some of these pipes are nearly one hundred years old.
Small towns often don’t have the revenues to spend on expensive drinking water and wastewater infrastructure upgrades.
That’s why this legislation creates grants for small public water systems to replace components, identify and prevent leaks, and install meters.
Reports have shown that only one quarter of the water West Virginia water systems pay to have treated and pumped ever even reaches a faucet.
Only one quarter!
Water is such a precious resource, and wasting that much of it because of leaky pipes and faulty infrastructure is unacceptable.
In addition, this program allows towns like Parkersburg or Martinsburg to use funds to address PFAS contamination.
I’m hopeful this new grant program will address that issue in West Virginia and also in other states with similar issues.
Another aspect of this bill that I’m especially proud of is the Water Infrastructure and Workforce Investment grant program.
Ensuring a sufficient and sustainable water workforce is a vital piece of resilience that sometimes gets forgotten.
Unfortunately, a large portion of the men and women who work in our water treatment facilities are getting older and retiring.
That’s why we need to make sure we have the next generation of water workers ready.
This bill reauthorizes and increases funding authorized for a program I created that helps water systems grow their workforce through apprenticeships, training programs, and retention efforts.
This program has been extremely popular with water systems around the country, and Congress has recognized this by funding it beyond the authorization level.
The reform in this bill will make possible additional investments to address the shortfall in our water workforce.
While water infrastructure investments are critical to ensuring we’re not wasting water and our water is clean, it’s also critical from an economic development perspective.
Berkeley County made huge investments into their water infrastructure system to ensure the system could handle the volume of water the local Proctor and Gamble plant needed.
With the upgraded water system, P&G was able to operate more efficiently and even expand.
That means more jobs.
That kind of opportunity needs to be available everywhere in West Virginia and around the country.
DWWIA passed unanimously out of the EPW Committee. And just last week, it passed the Senate by a vote of 89-2.
Conservatives, moderates, and liberals all came together on this.
This bill is proof that we can work together on infrastructure.
This is a bipartisan, responsible, and meaningful investment.
We’re taking care of pipes.
We’re looking out for our environment.
And, we’re putting special emphasis on helping rural and disadvantaged communities.
This is a bipartisan bill to be proud of, and I hope we continue in this spirit moving forward with other infrastructure priorities like surface transportation.
U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.