Sens. Voinovich, Brown Announce Joint Effort to Assist Ohio Communities Struggling to Afford Renovations for Outdated Sewer Systems

Senators Announce Introduction of Clean Water Affordability Act That Would Help More Than 80 Ohio Communities Update Water Infrastructure

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. George V. Voinovich (R-OH) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced legislation today that would help at least 86 Ohio communities make renovations to outdated sewer systems. The Clean Water Affordability Act of 2009 would help 86 Ohio communities struggling to afford costly, but necessary, renovations to sewer systems.

“It is clear that we are facing an environmental and public health crisis in this country when it comes to water infrastructure,” Voinovich said. “We cannot expect cities to spend millions of dollars for water infrastructure upgrades without help from the federal government. Our legislation provides a realistic approach for defining a local utility’s financial capability regarding long-term control plans to address combined sewer overflows and sanitary sewer overflow controls and ensures that such control programs are truly affordable for the utility’s ratepayers.”

“Access to safe and clean drinking water isn’t just a health issue, it’s an economic development imperative,” Brown said. “I’ve held more than 140 roundtable discussions across Ohio. At almost every one of them, I hear how important water and sewer infrastructure is to economic competiveness. While all Ohioans deserve access to clean water, too many communities are struggling to afford costly, but necessary, upgrades to sewer systems. This bill is about helping local governments make these renovations and investing in Ohio’s long-term economic development.”

Brown and Voinovich today released a statewide map of the 86 facilities in Ohio with serious sewage overflow programs. “Combined Sewage Overflow” systems, or CSOs, move 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 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) EPA estimates that about 850 billion gallons of untreated wastewater and storm water are released through 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Federal guidelines require municipalities to renovate these outdated systems to protect human health and the environment, but upgrades often prove too costly for many small communities. According to EPA, communities across the nation face an estimated $50 billion in need for CSO renovations. These projects represent more than 25 percent of all wastewater needs reported in the most recent EPA needs survey.

The 2008 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) survey showing 86 facilities in Ohio with serious sewage overflow problems amounts to a needed investment of $6.3 billion, an increase of more than half since the 2000 survey. The report calculated there is an immediate need of more than $10 billion in Ohio for improvements in publicly-owned wastewater treatment facilities.

The Clean Water Affordability Act is aimed at updating the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) clean water affordability policy, which puts 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 Clean Water Affordability Act authorizes $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 establish that:
•    The implementation schedule for water quality related improvements must be tailored to the affected community’s unique financial condition.
•    A financial capability assessment should consider more broadly each community’s economic situation.
•    Environmental improvements should be structured to mitigate the potential adverse impact of their cost on distressed populations.
Studies indicate that for every $1 billion invested in infrastructure projects, anywhere from 35,000 to nearly 50,000 jobs are created. Beyond job creation, investment in water and sewer infrastructure meets public health and safety needs and helps communities attract new businesses and residents.

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View Combined Sewer Overflow Map in a larger map

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