New Bill Gives Americans Good Jobs and Clean Water at the Same Time

On Wednesday the House of Representatives passed a jobs bill that will dedicate $2 billion for “ready-to-go” drinking water and wastewater projects -- projects that will employ engineers, construction workers, plumbers, architects, maintenance workers, and more. The House also targeted at least 20 percent of these funds for greener projects.

The clean water provisions will bring immediate relief to American workers now when they need it most AND create long-term benefits in the form of cleaner water for drinking and safer beaches for swimming.

America’s water infrastructure desperately needs these long-range investments. In cities across the nation, aging urban pipes and over-taxed sewage plants dump raw sewage and polluted stormwater right into our beaches after heavy rains.

In 2008, there were more than 20,000 days of closings and advisories at America’s vacation beaches because beachwater exceeded public health standards. Even with the closings, swimmers routinely contract rashes, diarrhea, and other GI illnesses.

The good news is that solving these problems will require the work of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Putting people to work in green jobs for water protection and conservation is just plain smart.

Green infrastructure is an excellent example. Green infrastructure – things like urban forestry, street-edge gardens, and green roofs – prevents polluted rainwater from entering drainage pipes, overflowing sewage systems, and releasing untreated sewage and toxic contaminants into our waterways.

But that’s not all. Green infrastructure also creates jobs. A $10 billion nationwide initiative to install green roofs alone would result in almost 200,000 jobs, according to an analysis by American Rivers and the Alliance for Water Efficiency.

Likewise, water efficiency is good for the environment and for employment. Using less water to accomplish the same goals decreases the stress on already burdened infrastructure. But saving water also saves energy.  Collecting, distributing, and treating drinking water and wastewater nationwide consume tremendous amounts of energy and release approximately 116 billion pounds of carbon dioxide per year – as much global warming pollution each year as 10 million cars.

In addition to these benefits, the Alliance for Water Efficiency reported that measures to increase water efficiency could generate between 15 and 22 jobs per million dollars invested.

Philadelphia is already beginning to reap the benefits of this kind of investment. As my colleague Nancy Stoner recently blogged about, the city is investing in green infrastructure to deal with its stormwater problem, and analysts of the city’s plan found that these green measures create more opportunities to hire local labor than conventional approaches to stormwater. Indeed, stormwater landscaping and restoration could generate more than 15,250 new entry-level green jobs, in addition to highly skilled construction positions.

Philadelphia’s investments in pocket parks, creek restoration, and green roofs will benefit all residents, not just the workers.

And the new House bill will bring these benefits of cleaner water and meaningful work to more communities around the nation. Now it’s time for the Senate to do the same. The Senate is expected to consider its own version of the bill in early 2010, and I hope our Senators remember that clean water investments will benefit all of us.