House advances Drinking Water System Improvement Act of 2017

Members of the U.S. House Subcommittee on the Environment concluded markup recently on legislation that would make a series of minor reforms to the Safe Drinking Water Act while reauthorizing the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF).

The unanimously-approved Drinking Water System Improvement Act of 2017 authorizes spending up to $8 billion on the DWSRF over the next five years, while also authorizing up to $750 million for the Public Water System Supervision grant program.

Lawmakers promised to continue to refine the bill ahead of a full-committee markup. The bill will now move to the full Energy and Commerce Committee, the House and the Senate before becoming law.

Other components of the Drinking Water System Improvement Act would:

  • Extend for five years the current “Buy American” provisions that require the use of domestic iron and steel on DWSRF projects, along with provisions that allow EPA to waive the requirement if domestic products would increase overall project costs by more than 25 percent;
  • Require recipients of DWSRF dollars to certify to their state that they have considered the costs and effectiveness of materials and techniques chosen for the project;
  • Offer a two-year enforcement reprieve to water systems that enter contractual agreements to take over “significant management or administrative functions” of other systems that have a history of water quality violations;
  • Require states to report on actions they take to encourage utility asset management planning, and direct EPA to periodically review and update training materials it produces for water utility managers on asset management strategies;
  • Direct EPA to study and report to the public on existing and potential technologies for the treatment and distribution of drinking water;
  • Improve DWSRF loan terms for projects serving disadvantaged communities; and
  • Amend the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act to ensure that community water systems are notified of a release of a contaminant into its source waters.

During the markup, the subcommittee also approved a bloc of amendments to the legislation that would include the cost of lead service line replacements in future EPA Drinking Water Needs Surveys, set aside six percent of a state’s annual DWSRF allotment for projects in disadvantaged communities, permanently apply Davis-Bacon wage controls to DWSRF-funded projects, authorize $25 million over five years for grants to help schools replace drinking water fountains tainted with lead, and require the Government Accountability Office to identify instances of duplicative state, local and federal requirements on DWSRF loan recipients.

Additional provisions could be inserted before the bill goes to the full Energy and Commerce Committee.  Lawmakers plan to negotiate proposals to require regular updates to vulnerability assessments and emergency response plans and to increase the frequency of consumer confidence reports.

The bill could be ready to go before the full Energy and Commerce Committee before the end of July. After that, the bill could be a candidate for inclusion in any comprehensive infrastructure legislation Congress may attempt to assemble later this year.

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) commended members of the subcommittee, ultimately noting it as an improvement for the Safe Drinking Water Act.

“The Drinking Water State Revolving Loan program remains an important water finance tool,” said Tracy Mehan, AWWA executive director for government affairs. “Reauthorization of the SRF program is overdue, and drinking water providers are pleased to see a substantial increase in authorized funding.”

AWWA also voiced support for potential improvements to the Safe Drinking Water Act. The association supported language that encourages – but does not mandate – asset management practices at utilities and does not impose a federal definition of asset management.

Some information contained in this news appeared in the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies’ (AMWA) Monday Morning Briefing.

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