Brown Introduces Bill to Keep Water Rates Affordable, Provide Assistance to Communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With nearly 80 Ohio communities struggling to afford costly but necessary renovations to sewer systems, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is introducing legislation this week that would provide relief from high water rates to affected Ohio communities. Brown introduced the Clean Water Affordability Act, legislation that would help communities make renovations to outdated sewer systems, while improving water quality and keeping rates affordable for residents.

“Studies indicate that for every $1 billion invested in infrastructure projects, more than 20,000 jobs are created. And, investment in water and sewer infrastructure keeps our water safe and healthy and helps communities attract new businesses and residents. But local communities and customers shouldn’t have to carry the burden of investment on their own,” Brown said. “This bill will give communities the flexibility and support they need to keep clean water upgrades on track while keeping water bills affordable for customers.”

During a news conference call to announce the legislation, Brown was joined by Julius Ciaccia, Jr., executive director of Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, who discussed how the legislation would help Cleveland lower water and sewer rates to attract new businesses and create jobs.

“As the CEO of a major wastewater utility that has consistently raised rates and invested heavily in its infrastructure, I applaud Senator Brown’s efforts,” said Ciaccia. “Sen. Brown’s bill will help find the proper balance between continued water quality improvements and affordability for rate payers.”

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.

Click HERE to find the latest data from the Ohio Environmental Protections Agency on Ohio communities with Combined Sewage Overflow Systems.

Federal guidelines require municipalities to renovate these outdated systems to protect human health and the environment, but upgrades often prove too costly for many small communities.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, the Clean Water Affordability Act:

  • Recognizes 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.
  • Authorizes $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.
  • Requires EPA to increase its emphasis on cost-saving green infrastructure projects.
  • Allows for reopening of legally-binding consent decrees between wastewater utilities and EPA for green infrastructure projects.
  • Integrated permitting is encouraged to allow communities to prioritize and plan for water-infrastructure investments in the most affordable way for ratepayers.