WASHINGTON — Fourth District Congressman Donald McEachin heard about issues Petersburg was having with its water system when he hosted a roundtable on the issue back in February. That roundtable meeting came just several weeks after the city experienced a rash of water main breaks, and was just several days before City Council officially voted to stop entertaining offers from private companies trying to buy the system.
In interactions with his fellow lawmakers, McEachin saw that many localities across the country are dealing with similar issues with their water systems. “A lot of Southern states have these same issues,” said McEachin.
This spurred McEachin to officially introduce the Clean Water Infrastructure Act last week.
“I introduced it because I heard about the city’s water needs, but not just in Petersburg, the entire district,” said McEachin. “We wanted to try to address those needs as best we could. A lot of Virginia’s water infrastructure is aging, or has aged.”
One of the biggest facets of the Clean Water Infrastructure Act is that it will increase the amount of money available to states through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF). The SRF was created in 1996 and provides financial support for water systems and clean drinking water programs.
“We added $18 billion to the program,” said McEachin.
McEachin is hopeful this drastic increase in funds will make it easier for communities to fund upgrades to their water systems.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the commonwealth was given $200 million in SRF funds from 2000-2012.
The legislation will also place more emphasis on distressed communities like Petersburg that have a high poverty rate, are experiencing financial hardship, or both.
“We put a special formula in there, so communities like Petersburg get prioritized,” said McEachin.
McEachin said he is hopeful the bill can pass Congress, though a vote on it will not occur until the next session.
Country-wide, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country’s drinking water infrastructure a D grade during their 2015 study. The society reported that an estimated $1 trillion over the next 25 years will be necessary to maintain and expand current water services.
In Virginia, the society graded the commonwealth only slightly higher than the rest of the country, giving its water infrastructure a C. The report stated that a large number of the state’s water systems are over 70 years old and that the $200 million the state received in SRF funds covered less than 10 percent of the state’s needs.
John Adam may be reached at email@example.com or 804-722-5172.