YOUNGSTOWN –With communities across Ohio – including Youngstown – struggling to afford costly but necessary renovations to outdated sewer systems that collect both sewage and storm water, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) outlined a plan to help communities improve water quality. During a visit to Mill Creek Park on Tuesday, Brown discussed how legislation he is planning to introduce would improve water quality while reducing rate increases for residents and small business.

“Around Ohio, communities like Youngstown are struggling to afford expensive – but vital – renovations to these outdated sewer systems,” Brown said. “Communities and their ratepayers – shouldn’t have to handle these fixes alone. That’s why I am reintroducing the Clean Water Affordability Act, which will lead to cleaner water, and promote economic development. With a combination of federal, state, and local funding, we can ensure cleaner water for the Mahoning Valley.”

Brown was joined by Aaron Young, Executive Director of Mill Creek MetroParks and State Sen. Joe Schiavoni to discuss how Brown’s legislation would provide relief to Youngstown to help reduce future water and sewer rate increases to attract new businesses, create jobs, and preserve the environment.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about 850 billion gallons of untreated wastewater and storm water are released through combined sewer overflows (CSOs) 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 Federal guidelines require municipalities to renovate these outdated systems to protect human health and the environment, but upgrades often prove too costly for many communities. According to the EPA, communities across the nation face an estimated $63 billion shortfall for CSO renovations. These projects represent more than 25 percent of all wastewater needs reported in the most recent EPA needs survey.

The Clean Water Affordability Act is aimed at updating the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 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.

The bill would authorize $1.8 billion over five years for a grant program to help financially distressed communities update their aging infrastructure. The program would provide a 75-25 cost share for municipalities to use for planning, design, and construction of treatment works to control combined and sanitary sewer overflows. The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), which represents the sewer districts, has endorsed the legislation.

The legislation would also:

  • Tailor the implementation schedule for water quality related improvements to the affected community’s unique financial condition.
  • Structure environmental improvements to mitigate the potential adverse impact of their cost on distressed populations.
  • Allow for reopening of approved Long Term Control Plans for green infrastructure projects.
  • Establish integrated permitting that would require EPA to prioritize the funding of most cost-effective and most important water quality projects.