New House Bill Would Fund DWSRF, Lead Service Line Replacement

Legislation?introduced?in the House of Representatives last week by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) would reauthorize the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF), offer funding aid to water systems seeking to replace lead service lines and establish new programs to help communities respond to drought and global climate change.

The ?Assistance, Quality and Affordability Act? (H.R. 4653) would incorporate several changes to the DWSRF that have been put on the table over the past several years. Among the changes are a redefinition of ?disadvantaged communities? under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to include portions of a water utility?s service area (rather than the entire service area) and a requirement that states with a demonstrated need provide assistance to disadvantaged areas.?

The bill would also require states to give additional priority to projects that help water systems protect public health ?affordably in the future? ? which is intended to steer additional assistance to communities that are currently in compliance with the SDWA but require additional infrastructure investment to maintain that standing going forward.

Other changes proposed for the DWSRF would clarify that preconstruction activities, rehabilitation and replacement of aging infrastructure, and production or capture of sustainable energy are eligible for DWSRF funding. The legislation would permanently apply ?Buy American? requirements for the use of domestic iron and steel products to all projects funded through the DWSRF, and the bill would authorize more than $21 billion for the program over the next five years.

Aside from the DWSRF reauthorization, Rep. Tonko?s bill includes a number of new initiatives aimed at improving utility infrastructure and protecting public health. Among them are:

  • Directing EPA to conduct a study on the presence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in drinking water sources and develop criteria for evaluating effective water loss control technologies;
  • Requiring EPA to develop a strategic plan for assessing and managing the risks of drought to drinking water;
  • Establishing a water infrastructure resiliency and sustainability program to help utilities adapt to climate change, similar to an AMWA-backed proposal originally offered by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.); and
  • Creating an EPA grant program to help communities and low-income homeowners replace lead service lines.

House Republican leaders are unlikely to advance Rep. Tonko?s legislation in its current form, but the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) says the congressman is expected to use the bill to bring additional attention to water infrastructure needs. Tonko is scheduled to speak later this month at AMWA?s 2016 Water Policy Conference.

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