More Americans Could Be Exposed to Waterborne Diseases, Says NRDC

WASHINGTON (November 19, 2004) -- Congress's plan to slash $279 million from federal clean water spending could lead to more sewer overflows, polluted water, disease outbreaks, and a loss of nearly 100,000 jobs, according to NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). The cuts, which Congress reportedly will make over the weekend, will reduce funding levels for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund -- the nation's biggest water quality financing source -- 20 percent from last year's level of $1.3 billion.

The $279 million cut will cripple more than 500 projects that protect drinking water sources, treat sewage, clean up contaminated stormwater, and reduce animal waste flowing into waterways, NRDC pointed out. Those projects have been relying on federal funding.

"We should be spending more to protect our water supply, not less," said Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC's Clean Water Project. "We're going to see more beach closings, disease outbreaks, and serious harm to people, fish and wildlife. Cutting already inadequate funding is the exact opposite of what we need."

Over the last 16 years the revolving fund has provided more than 14,200 loans totaling $47 billion to communities to rehabilitate aging sewer plants, minimize raw sewage overflows and reduce stormwater runoff.

Many sewage treatment systems are falling apart. Old pipes are leaking or breaking, combined sewer and wet weather overflows are overwhelming treatment capacity, and more beaches are closed every year. Sewage overflows are a particularly serious problem. From 23,000 to 75,000 occur nationwide annually, resulting in the release of 3 billion to 10 billion gallons of untreated wastewater, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. Every year, millions of Americans get sick from swimming in or drinking water contaminated with raw or inadequately treated sewage.

In September, NRDC and a coalition of state and local governments, and labor, construction, environmental and public health groups released a report, All Dried Up: How Clean Water is Threatened by Budget Cuts (596 Kb Adobe Acrobat file), which warned about the consequences of cutting the revolving fund.