Chairman Garret Graves (R-LA)
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment
Hearing on “Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Water Stakeholders’ Perspectives”
September 26, 2017
(Remarks as Prepared)
Good morning and thank you all for being here.
I would like to welcome everyone to our hearing today on “Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Water Stakeholders’ Perspectives.”
Before we begin, I would like to extend our thoughts and prayers to all the families and communities impacted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.
As the Chairman of the Subcommittee with oversight over the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency, I can assure everyone impacted that we are working closely with our federal agencies to ensure a speedy recovery for the States and communities devastated by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.
Since the Subcommittee’s first hearing at the beginning of March, we have explored a variety of potential ideas for inclusion in an infrastructure package. Of course our Nation’s water needs extend beyond wastewater management, but today I’m happy to bring in a diverse panel to gain their perspective on what should be included for wastewater infrastructure.
We are all well aware that the needs for communities to address water and wastewater infrastructure are substantial, and these needs continue to grow.
In many communities, water and wastewater infrastructure is long past its design life and in need of urgent repair, replacement, and upgrading.
As a result, leaks and blockages are all too familiar an experience across the Nation and represent a massive waste of a vital, and sometimes scarce, resource.
Additionally, the needs are especially urgent for hundreds of cities and towns around the Nation trying to remedy the problem of combined sewer overflows and sanitary sewer overflows.
Shrinking municipal budgets, insufficient independent financing capabilities, and increasingly burdensome regulations without commensurate federal support have strained communities’ efforts to address these critical needs.
According to EPA, the total documented needs for sustainable wastewater infrastructure, CSO and SSO correction, and stormwater management are over 270 billion dollars over the next 20 years. The needs for drinking water infrastructure drive this figure to over 600 billion dollars. And these are even very conservative estimates.
So with talk of a major infrastructure package, today we ask the not-so-simple question – what can we do?
I believe it is going to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to reverse the decline of our Nation’s water infrastructure.
Federal, state, and local investment will be necessary, but cannot be relied upon to solve all our problems.
Instead, we need to move away from “business as usual” and utilize every tool available.
This means searching for new sources of funding, increasing collaboration between the public and private sectors, and improving federal regulatory governance.
We need smarter asset management and increased efficiencies in our water systems, and to do so, we need to incentivize the adoption of new and innovative technologies that will cut costs and improve water quality.
And as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma showed us this past month, we need to build resiliently. Treatment plants in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida have been unable to cope with the influx from Harvey and Irma causing poorly treated wastewater and raw sewage to flow into city streets and nearby waterbodies.
This has caused not only numerous public health and environmental concerns, but is also a detriment to our national security.
We need to carefully prioritize our investments in water infrastructure to ensure that we are adequately protecting the public health, promoting the economic growth of our communities, and preventing the degradation of the environment.
I look forward to hearing thoughts from our witnesses today.