Clean Water Spending Cuts Threaten Environment, Employment, Public Health

Diverse Coalition Calls on Senate to Restore Clean Water Funds

New Report Offers State-By-State Breakdowns

WASHINGTON, DC (September 15, 2004) - Congress is poised to slash federal clean water spending by more than one-third, which could lead to more sewer overflows, polluted water, disease outbreaks, and a loss of nearly 50,000 jobs. This warning comes in a report issued today by a broad coalition of state and local governments, labor, construction, and environmental and public health groups.

The report, All Dried Up: How Clean Water is Threatened by Budget Cuts (Adobe Acrobat file, 516 k), highlights the impacts of significant proposed reductions in funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF). Specifically, the report details how much federal assistance each state stands to lose, how many jobs the lost funding would have created, how many water improvement projects may be held up or scrapped, and the scope of water pollution nationwide.

"It boggles the mind that Congress would even consider slashing federal funding for communities that helps ensure clean water for all Americans," says Nancy Stoner, clean water director at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). The White House has repeatedly pushed for massive cuts in clean water spending but this is the first time Congress appears willing to go along, according to Stoner. "The Clean Water Act protects America's waterways from polluted stormwater runoff and inadequately treated sewage but only when the law is fully implemented and enforced, which requires sufficient funding. That's where the Clean Water SRF comes in."

The Clean Water SRF is America's largest water quality financing source. Over the past 16 years this program has dispersed more than 14,200 loans -- some $47 billion in all -- to communities large and small to rehabilitate aging sewer plants, minimize raw sewage overflows and reduce stormwater runoff. This year's federal budget proposal slashed state and local funding by almost $500 million -- a 37 percent reduction from last year. Despite the program's popularity and success, the House Appropriations Committee failed to restore Clean Water SRF funding when it passed the VA-HUD spending bill in July. With the Senate expected to take up the VA-HUD bill soon, the coalition is urging the Appropriations Subcommittee to reject the deep cuts in clean water spending and fully restore a half-billion dollars in federal funding to the program.

"The Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund is among the most successful federal programs and is responsible for significant water quality improvements nationwide. Communities rely on this federal funding to tackle a wide array of water quality problems," says Roberta Savage, Executive Director of the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators (ASIWPCA). "With our nation's infrastructure threatened by natural disasters like the recent hurricanes, and the increasing potential for terrorist attacks, decreasing funds for this program is at best untimely, and will undoubtedly have a significant negative effect on water quality."

The aging of the nation's sewage treatment infrastructure has a direct effect on our waters and the people who come into contact with them. Many systems have exceeded their effective lives and are crumbling because most were designed and built decades ago when urban areas were more compact and had much smaller populations. Symptoms of the problem include old pipes that leak or break, combined sewer and wet weather overflows that overwhelms treatment capacity, and the growing number of beach closures and "impaired" river miles. Sewage overflows are an especially large problem. Between 23,000 and 75,000 occur nationwide every year, resulting in the release of 3 billion to 10 billion gallons of untreated wastewater, according to EPA estimates. Millions of Americans get sick every year from swimming in or drinking water contaminated with raw or inadequately treated sewage.

"The huge strides in water quality since the 1970s owe a lot to the funding of sewage treatment," says Betsy Otto, senior policy director at American Rivers. "But we've been significantly shortchanging investments in these systems for years. If we don't reverse that trend, we're going to see more beach closings, disease outbreaks, and serious harm to people, fish and wildlife. Cutting already inadequate funding is the opposite of what we need."

While water quality and public health are key concerns, the Clean Water SRF is also a jobs program. At historic spending levels, federal clean water spending has directly lead to the creation of an estimated 400,000 highly skilled jobs for engineers, contractors, manufacturers, administrators, and construction workers in communities throughout the nation.

"The condition of our nation's clean water infrastructure will continue to diminish rapidly unless the federal share of investment is substantially increased for a number of years," says Bill Hillman, CEO of the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA). "The very real problem is that dilapidated capital facilities diminish economic health, reduce the tax base, and harm the quality of life for everyone. An untimely reduction in federal investment this year will further exacerbate the problem by making the inevitable future fix significantly more expensive. Congress must reestablish clean water investment as a national priority and, as an important side benefit, create high-wage American jobs that cannot be exported."

The EPA projects that communities across the country will have to spend at least $388 billion on new and repaired equipment over the next 15 years just to meet current clean water infrastructure needs. If the Clean Water SRF is cut from $1.34 billion to $850 million, as proposed, "Communities will not have the funds to tackle the current backlog of capital replacement projects, to meet mandates associated with controlling wet weather overflows or to address new pollutants and security issues in the future," says William B. Schatz, general counsel for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District and president of the Association of Metropolitan Sewage Agencies (AMSA). "Restoring water funding this year is a crucial step toward addressing a longer-term solution for our nation's water needs."

Related NRDC Pages
All Dried Up: How Clean Water is Threatened by Budget Cuts (Adobe Acrobat file, 516 k)

Additional Downloadable Materials for the Press
31 governors write congressional leaders in support of SRF: letter to House, letter to Senate

Coalition Contacts: