Brown Bill to Keep Water Rates Affordable and Provide Assistance to Communities Included in Senate Water Infrastructure Bill

Brown’s Bill Helps Communities Replace Outdated Sewer Systems to Avoid Dangerous Overflows that Can Pollute Drinking Water

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced today that the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works included provisions of his Clean Water Affordability Act, legislation to provide relief from high water rates to affected Ohio communities, in the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA). Brown introduced the Clean Water Affordability Act this month to help communities make important improvements to outdated sewer systems, while improving water quality and keeping rates affordable for residents.

“While all Ohioans deserve access to clean water, too many communities are struggling to afford costly, but necessary, upgrades to sewer systems. This bill helps local governments make these renovations while providing them with the flexibility and support needed to keep water bills affordable for customers,” Brown said. “Studies indicate that for every $1 billion invested in infrastructure projects, more than 20,000 jobs are created. Passing this bill would help keep our water safe so communities can thrive, attracting new businesses and residents.”

In the event of a storm or excessive rain, overflow systems cannot handle both human wastewater and storm runoff at the same time. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that about 850 billion gallons of untreated wastewater and storm water are released through overflow systems each year in the United States.

Federal guidelines require municipalities to renovate these outdated systems to protect human health and the environment, but upgrades often prove too costly for many small communities. According to EPA, communities across the nation face an estimated $48 billion in need for overflow system renovations. These projects represent nearly 20 percent of all wastewater needs reported in the most recent EPA needs survey. 

A 2012 EPA survey found more than 70 Ohio communities with serious sewage overflow problems amounts to a needed investment of $7.5 billion over the next 20 years. The report calculated there is an immediate need of more than $10 billion in Ohio for improvements in publicly-owned wastewater treatment facilities.

Brown’s bill is aimed at updating the EPA’s clean water affordability policy, which can put undue strain on the budgets of local communities. The current EPA affordability policy does not provide for a full and accurate representation of the financial impacts of clean water investment programs on communities struggling to meet federal regulations for improving their water infrastructure.

Specifically, WRDA includes the provisions of the Clean Water Affordability Act that:

  • Recognize local economic trends—high unemployment rates, recent job loss, population loss, impact of rate increases on low-income populations—to adjust the process and increase flexibility in the setting of compliance dates;
  • Authorize $1.8 billion in competitive grants over the next five years and prioritizes communities who already have water quality issues and need the money most. According to Standard and Poors, every $1 billion invested in infrastructure projects creates more than 20,000 jobs;
  • Require EPA to increase its emphasis on cost-saving green infrastructure projects; and
  • Encourage integrated planning to allow communities to prioritize and plan for water-infrastructure investments in the most affordable way for ratepayers.