WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) visited a water infrastructure project in Defiance today to discuss how upgrading water and sewer systems can help reduce water costs for consumers and promote economic development. He was joined by Defiance Mayor Bob Armstrong, who outlined how Recovery Act funding has helped prevent further rate increases in Defiance and how legislation he's authored would help communities pay for costly, but necessary, upgrades to outdated sewage systems.
"Fixing CSOs is costly even in the best of times, and it's even tougher in this economy, Brown said. "We must provide communities with the flexibility they need to address serious environmental and public safety concerns."
Defiance's current sewage system, built in the 19th century, is a "Combined Sewage Overflow" system (CSO) that moves both wastewater and storm water through the same sewage system. In the event of a storm or excessive rain, CSOs cannot handle both human wastewater and storm runoff at the same time. The EPA estimates that about 850 billion gallons of untreated wastewater and storm water are released through CSOs into our streams, lakes, and rivers 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Federal guidelines require municipalities to renovate these outdated systems to protect human health and the environment, but upgrades often prove too costly for many communities. In 2009, Defiance received $4.23 million in Recovery Act funding to help cover the costs of the CSO elimination project, but rates have still steadily increased each year since 2006 to pay for the project.
Brown was joined at the site of a CSO elimination project by Defiance Mayor Bob Armstrong and Steve Boomer, President of Arps Dairy, who discussed the strain these high rates have on local businesses. Mayor Armstrong released an analysis showing how Recovery Act funding has laid the groundwork for updates, but how more assistance is needed.
Brown joined Sen. George V. Voinovich (D-OH) to introduce the Clean Water Affordability Act, which would update the EPA's clean water affordability policy and authorize a $1.8 billion grant program over five years to help communities like Defiance update aging infrastructure. The bill would change the economic indicators used to assess a community's ability to finance and develop implementation schedules to fix the problems associated with CSOs. This legislation would recognize the importance of local economic trends-such as high unemployment rates, recent job loss, or the impact of rate increases on low-income populations-when communities work with the EPA to develop implementation schedules for CSOs.