Bipartisan Bill Aims to Make Sure Drinking Water Infrastructure is Made in America

We’ve been so lost in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season that we didn’t get a chance to talk about an important bipartisan bill introduced last month that aims to improve a key piece of America’s infrastructure — and create good-paying jobs, too.

Reps. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) and David McKinley (R-W. Va.) put forth the “Buy America for Drinking Water Extension Act” on Nov. 20. The legislation would permanently ensure that all iron and steel products used for projects in the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund are “made entirely in the United States.”

The revolving fund is a federal-state partnership that is used to finance projects to improve drinking water systems nationwide. Between 1997 and 2018, the fund has given more than $38.2 billion in low-interest loans to more than 14,500 projects, helping provide safe drinking water to millions of Americans.

Still, more needs to be done. Like most of America’s infrastructure, our nation’s drinking water infrastructure is in terrible shape. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave it a “D” rating in 2017, noting that the 1 million miles of pipes that deliver water to our homes in businesses were laid in the early-to-mid 20th century.

Given that these pipes have a lifespan of 75 to 100 years, it’s time to get to work modernizing these systems. And when we do, it’s important to also make sure our tax dollars are reinvested back into our communities, creating jobs and boosting the local economy, which is the goal of the new legislation.

Although they might at first seem like separate issues, jobs and infrastructure are closely linked. It’s no secret, after all, that the places that were hit hardest by manufacturing job loss and industrial flight in the late 20th century also watched their infrastructure crumble.

Perhaps the most famous example of this is Flint, Michigan.

As Gerald Taylor examined in the 2016 report Unmade in America, the Flint Water Crisis can be directly linked to the decline of Flint’s auto industry (and the loss of 70,000 local jobs). Without any tax revenue, officials put cost-cutting measures into place that eventually caused the contamination of the city’s drinking water.

“The negative financial impact on Flint was so great that the governor of Michigan declared the city to be in a state of fiscal emergency in 2011. In a bid to save money, city managers decided to satisfy Flint’s public water needs with the Flint River, rather than with Lake Huron or the Detroit River as had been done previously,” Taylor writes. “But due to the effect of years of pollution, the water from the Flint River reacted badly with the pipes that transferred the water to the city, corroding them and introducing toxic levels of lead and other chemicals into the water supply. Activities as simple as taking a shower or drinking a glass of tap water suddenly became potentially life-altering prospects.”

Sadly, Flint is hardly alone.

Baltimore — another city hit hard by deindustrialization — had to shutoff water fountains at many of its schools because of lead contamination. High concentration of lead also has been found in the drinking water at schools in cities like Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Portland,  Atlanta, and Newark.

It’s past time that Congress act to modernize our nation’s drinking water infrastructure and permanently make sure that taxpayer money spent on this effort goes to American-made products. The "Buy America for Drinking Water Extension Act” seems like a good place to start this important work.

“We must continue to work to create jobs and strengthen our infrastructure,” Bustos said in a statement. “That’s why I’m pleased this bipartisan legislation works to do both, while also ensuring we have a safe and clean drinking water supply.”


Reposted from AAM