Senator Carper’s Opening Remarks at Democratic Roundtable on U.S. Drinking Water Infrastructure

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, joined Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) to hold a roundtable titled, “Drinking Water: A Crisis in Every State.” Below is Senator Carper’s opening statement, as prepared for delivery:

“I am grateful that we have come together today to discuss the state of drinking water in this country. I also want to thank each of our panelists for joining us here. I will introduce each of you individually prior to your brief presentations. I’m sure I speak for everyone at the table today when I say I’m deeply concerned about the growing risk of drinking water contamination. That risk is compounded by the threat of underinvestment in drinking water systems should Congress adopt President Trump’s proposed FY18 budget for the EPA, by the EPA’s long-standing failure to issue new drinking water standards and by the agency’s recent actions to rescind the Clean Water Rule.   

“The lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, a city where 40 percent of residents live in poverty, began in 2014 when a State government official decided to switch the city’s drinking water supply. Our networks and newspapers were flooded with images of families holding up jugs of discolored water that came from their kitchen sinks and bathtubs. It was like we were watching a nightmare unfold overnight, but in reality, switching Flint’s water source without adding the proper water treatment chemicals unleashed contaminants from the system that had been present in the city’s pipes for years.

“For decades, cities across this country have struggled to fund proper maintenance of their drinking water infrastructure. In Flint, officials repeatedly cut corners with little regard for public health concerns in order to avoid investing in a high-quality water system. But really, what’s more important than an investment in making sure our kids aren’t drinking water that slowly stunts the development of their brains?

“While the national spotlight has focused on Flint, unfortunately, aging water infrastructure is a growing problem facing far too many of our communities. Last year, the Guardian newspaper found that, over the past decade, water departments in at least 33 large cities have chosen to test their water with methods that underestimate the lead levels in drinking water. An investigation by Reuters found 449 communities in this country with lead levels in their drinking water that were higher than those found in Flint.

“Congress banned lead water pipes 30 years ago, but many of our local utility systems are older than that. In fact, we don’t even know the full extent of the problem – estimates of the number of lead service lines still in use range from 3-10 million. EPA estimates that drinking water funding needs across the country total $600 billion over a 20-year period. To address that need requires an investment of $30 billion annually. The proposed fiscal year 2018 budget for EPA and USDA drinking water programs that totals $900 million won’t cut the mustard. In fact, it’s not even close. 

“I hope that today’s discussion will begin to tackle a number  of these issues, but, in the effort to address contaminates in drinking water from aging infrastructure, this is only the tip of the iceberg. State and local governments are already strapped for resources, but we have to address these concerns. I often say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and no place is this saying truer than with regard to maintaining our critical local infrastructure. We have to find a way to help make sure parents can feel confident about the glass of water they give their kids at the dinner table. I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join us to continue this good work. Let’s remind the American people that, with a little determination and dedication, we can accomplish the responsibilities they entrust to us, including protecting the water that we drink.”