WEF releases statement on Hurricane Harvey

Eileen O’Neill, executive director of the Water Environment Federation (WEF), has issued the following statement regarding Hurricane Harvey, which has devastated the greater Houston area and many parts of southern Texas over the past two weeks.

“Our thoughts are with everyone impacted by Hurricane Harvey, including the water professionals responding to the devastating flooding,” O’Neill said.

“It is during tremendous challenges like this that we see the incredibly tight-knit nature of the water community. WEF’s members are expressing concern and offering support for colleagues in Texas, Louisiana, and throughout the Gulf Coast.

“Response networks are active, but do not need additional assistance or resources at this juncture. This includes the Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network (WARN), which is in communication with government agencies involved in the response. The Texas WARN is coordinated with Texas State Emergency Management. Impacted utilities are currently receiving necessary assistance. WEF is following these emergency response efforts and is also in contact with the Water Environment Association of Texas to monitor how members and communities are being impacted.

“WEF encourages members who wish to support those impacted by Hurricane Harvey to consider financial donations to the American Red Cross and other credible charitable organizations.

“As the response and recovery to this unfortunate disaster continues, WEF will continue to monitor the impact on the water sector, assist any way our organization is able, and update our members on the situation.”

Texas WARN is working with federal and state agencies, associations, utilities and other WARNs to facilitate the delivery of aid to systems affected by flood waters from Hurricane Harvey.  According to Texas CEQ, as least 150 water systems were inoperable, with that number likely to rise as authorities continue assessments.

As of last Friday, the largest water system without service was the City of Beaumont, serving about 118,000 people, and a boil-water notice for the City of Victoria, serving 63,000 people, remained in effect.

Texas WARN has issued a Pending National WARN Assistance Request to all WARNs in anticipation of an Emergency Management Assistance Compact request. Utilities, especially those in surrounding states, are advised to communicate with their respective WARNs regarding offers of assistance, ranging from assets to teams of professionals, such as electricians and mechanics.

Water systems in Louisiana have also been affected by floodwaters. As of August 31, 14 small water systems in that state had issued boil-water notices.

Federal Response

Members of Congress returning this week from their annual August recess face a long to-do list over the next several weeks, complicated by the federal government’s response to Hurricane Harvey. Congress will likely need to address hurricane relief aid as soon as this week, as FEMA is quickly spending down its main disaster account. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last week that government aid efforts to help hurricane victims could move up the debt ceiling deadline several days from the prior estimate of Sept. 29, increasing pressure on Congress to act.

Before the end of the month, lawmakers also must pass appropriations legislation to keep the government running into the new fiscal year and reauthorize critical programs for flood insurance, children’s health insurance and the Federal Aviation Administration.  In addition, the Trump administration is pressuring lawmakers in the House and Senate to use this month to begin advancing tax reform proposals through committee, with the goal of bringing legislation to the floor of each chamber by November.

With this long list of must-do items, and the fact that Congress will take several days off later this month in observance of Rosh Hashanah, there appears to be little time to make progress on comprehensive infrastructure investment legislation, which the Trump Administration continues to call a priority but which has attracted relatively little time and effort of lawmakers to this point.  While several congressional committees have marked up proposals that could be used to build an infrastructure package, such as the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund reauthorization bill approved by the House Energy and Commerce panel in July, congressional leaders have not given any signal as to when, if at all, a comprehensive package could make it to the House floor.

Some information contained in this news update appeared in the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies’ Monday Morning Briefing for Sept. 4.

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