WASHINGTON – Bold investment can stop sewage overflows and help make America’s waterways safe again, according to a new report from Environment America Research & Policy Center. Entitled A Path to Cleaner Water, the study comes out as Congress negotiates water infrastructure funding for the coming fiscal year as part of the federal budget.
The study examines successful and innovative projects in each of the ten U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regions -- from nature-based infrastructure, such as rain gardens and constructed wetlands, to conventional projects, such as upgraded wastewater treatment plants. For example, a combination of conventional and natural infrastructures are working together to nearly eliminate combined sewer overflows into the Portland stretch of the Willamette River and Columbia Slough, making them once again safe for recreation and wildlife.
“From Texas’ San Marcos River to Washington’s Puget Sound, one thing is clear: investing in water infrastructure works,” said Laura Miller, co-author of the report and clean water advocate with Environment America Research & Policy Center. “Across America, sewage overflows and runoff pollution are threatening our favorite places to swim, paddle and find peace in nature. But when our nation applies the right resources, we can fix these problems.”
Polluted runoff from roads and parking lots, and overflowing or failing sewer systems are common sources of water contamination. Scientists estimate there are 57 million instances of people getting sick each year from swimming in polluted water. Algal outbreaks, fish kills and beach closures are common effects of these sources of pollution. Investing in stormwater and wastewater infrastructure, the report concludes, can prevent this pollution at the source. Absent infrastructure repairs, all these pollution problems will become worse as infrastructure ages and storms become more intense with climate change.
Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives earmarked $11 billion in additional funding for both clean water and drinking water infrastructure. But last month the U.S. Senate unveiled a budget proposal that includes no increase. Congress has until Dec. 11 to negotiate a compromise on this and other issues in the federal budget.
“Investing in clean water is a good idea for our waterways, communities and environment, and we know that it can be done with broad, bipartisan support,” Miller said. “We saw proof that the will to increase water infrastructure funding spans across the aisle earlier this year when the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee announced draft legislation with bipartisan backing to boost water infrastructure spending. This type of clean water collaboration can bring Congress together and show unity in a time of great division.”