Last week, the Senate passed the Water Resources Development Act, including key provisions from my legislation to protect Ohioans’ drinking water and keep Lake Erie healthy.
At a time when so many Ohioans are rightly frustrated with Washington dysfunction, this is bill where both sides came together, and we were able to deliver bipartisan wins for our state.
The legislation includes my bill to appoint a Great Lakes Harmful Algal Bloom Coordinator at the EPA, and to fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. It also contains strong provisions I authored to help protect families from lead exposure, including creating a new federal grant to help schools and daycares test their drinking water for lead, and a requirement that the EPA automatically alert the public to lead contamination if the state fails to do so.
And the bill incorporates my Clean Water Affordability Act that will help communities invest in revitalizing their aging water infrastructure to improve water quality, and prevent the sort of damage that we’ve seen recently in Hamilton County.
At the end of August, heavy rains in Southeast Ohio caused sewer backups that left more than 1,400 businesses and homes flooded. This is a nightmare for the families and business owners who are left to deal with the damage, and it’s a nightmare for Hamilton County’s budget, which will now be hit with some $10 million in cleanup costs.
Rather than waiting for inevitable emergencies like this to happen and then scrambling to pay the bill, we need to make the upfront investments in upgrading our water infrastructure that will save taxpayers and homeowners money in the long term – and that’s exactly what this bill will do.
It will help communities that are struggling to afford expensive – but vital – renovations to outdated Combined Sewage Overflow systems, or CSOs. These sewer systems carry both storm water and sewage. Every time there are heavy rains – like we had in late August – these systems are overwhelmed and untreated waste and storm water is dumped straight into our rivers, creeks, and lakes – the same rivers, creeks and lakes that we pull our drinking water from.
That’s why federal guidelines require local governments to renovate outdated sewer systems—but our communities shouldn’t have to shoulder the cost alone. These renovations can cost billions—an estimated $1.6 billion in northeast Ohio alone, and $3 billion in Cincinnati.
This legislation will invest $1.8 billion, to be distributed over the next five years through a specific grant program aimed at these sewage systems. This grant program will prioritize these investments in communities that are already dealing with water quality issues and need the money most. The bill will also encourage the use of cost-saving green infrastructure, to keep water from entering sewers in the first place.
And it requires the EPA to make sure that clean water compliance plans take into account the economic health of a community, and other ongoing clean water investments, to ease the burden on ratepayers.
Not only will this new investment protect local customers from high water bills and lead to cleaner water, it will also create jobs and promote economic development. Studies indicate that every $1 billion invested in infrastructure projects can create more than 20,000 jobs.
It’s in everyone’s interest to ensure clean water for our families and our businesses. 21st century infrastructure, like sewer systems, attracts 21st century jobs, and gives families the peace of mind of knowing that their water is safe and their photo albums won’t be ruined by a flooded basement.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is a Democrat who represents Ohio in the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C.