Last week, the Environment and Public Works Committee approved two major bipartisan pieces of legislation that I co-authored with Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) – America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 and the Drinking Water Infrastructure Act of 2020. These two bipartisan bills will help to improve our nation’s water infrastructure.
What does “improving our nation’s water infrastructure” really mean, you might ask? Well, for one, it means keeping the promises afforded to every American through the Declaration of Independence: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Certainly, none of those things are possible without access to clean water. You cannot have life without clean water to drink.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of that, too. Access to clean water is critical to public health.
We are reminded daily – almost hourly, it seems – that washing our hands with soap and water is a simple, yet effective, way to prevent the spread of this deadly, virulent disease. However, many communities across the country simply lack access to clean water because of inadequate water infrastructure or harmful contamination in their groundwater or water supply pipes. In fact, more than two million Americans do not even have running water.
In recent days, we have seen more reports focusing on the struggle of our country’s indigenous communities, communities of color, and economically-disadvantaged communities, which often face higher rates of harmful water contamination, or lack adequate or upgraded water or sewer systems. In Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, the coronavirus outbreak among the Navajo Nation population is dire. While public health officials promote the importance of “hand hygiene,” one third of the Navajo Nation does not have running water, making proper sanitization near impossible for many.
This week, Doctors Without Borders sent several doctors and a water sanitation expert to assist the Navajo Nation with the tribal response to the COVID 19 pandemic. This is an international organization that responds to medical humanitarian emergencies around the world in places where the health care system has collapsed – from war-torn regions experiencing widespread famines, to refugee camps at the center of conflict zones. Now, Doctors Without Borders is responding to a public health crisis right here in the United States.
The two bipartisan bills approved by the Environment and Public Works Committee last week would, among many things, help to expand access to clean drinking water and running water while prioritizing small, disadvantaged, and rural communities. Combined, these bills would:
- Help low- and moderate-income households upgrade or install new drinking water and sewer systems, expanding access to running water, and improving sanitization;
- Improve access to clean, safe drinking water by addressing harmful contamination;
- Invest in water infrastructure and climate resiliency projects in underserved communities;
- Help disadvantaged communities navigate the funding process and increase the availability of direct grants to ensure communities are no longer overlooked or disregarded; and,
- Reduce harmful air pollution emissions from ports, which are often located near frontline communities.
Just as Americans cannot truly have “life” without clean water, they also cannot ‘pursue happiness’ without the economic opportunity that comes with having strong water infrastructure. While water is the essence of life, it’s also an essential part of our economy. More than 99 percent of U.S. overseas trade moves through our waterways. Our nation’s water infrastructure – our ports, our shipping channels and other projects – support economic growth, facilitate commerce, sustain jobs, and create new jobs, as well.
In the coming weeks, I plan to share with you more about these two major pieces of legislation and how they will impact our society and economy. These two water infrastructure bills would create lasting solutions to ensure those words in the Declaration of Independence – ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ – aren’t just words on a sheet of paper or old words on a piece of parchment, but they are real words we still hold true today.