By Patrick Crow, WaterWorld Washington Correspondent
The Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies (AMSA) has proposed that Congress create a trust fund to sustain critical water and sewer programs.
AMSA noted that Congress, as part of a $388.4 billion omnibus package in November, cut the Environmental Protection Agency�s (EPA) budget by $277 million -- mostly by slashing the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) by $250 million (from $1.35 billion to $1.1 billion), a 15 percent reduction from recent funding levels.
Ken Kirk, AMSA executive director, said, "Without a long-term, sustainable federal commitment to clean water funding, communities will not be able to tackle the current backlog of capital replacement projects, to meet mandates associated with controlling wet weather overflows, or to improve the quality of the nation�s waterways."
AMSA said Congress passed the Water Pollution Control Act in 1972 to ensure adequate funding to help cities and states construct sewage treatment plants.
The association said the necessary funding has not been forthcoming. It said studies by EPA, the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Accountability Office, and the Water Infrastructure Network estimate a water infrastructure funding gap of $300-600 billion over the next 20 years.
AMSA noted that Congress, to resolve similar funding shortfalls for critical national infrastructure, established trust funds for transportation ($30 billion/year) and airports ($8 billion/year) that are supported by dedicated revenue sources.
The association was proposing a 5 cent/bottle fee on beverages (except milk and fruit juices) to sustain a federal Clean Water and Safe Water Trust Fund.
The bottle tax would raise $7 billion/year for the trust fund, which combined with $2 billion from congressional SRF appropriations, would make $9 billion/year available from 2006 through 2010. AMSA said $2 billion should be earmarked for the clean water SRF, $1.5 billion for the safe water SRF, $3 billion for clean water grants, $1.5 billion for safe water grants, and the remaining $1 billion for other water-related programs.
Separately, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) also complained about clean water SRF funding cuts.
Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC�s Clean Water Project, said, "We should be spending more to protect our water supply, not less. We�re going to see more beach closings, disease outbreaks, and serious harm to people, fish and wildlife."
NRDC said over the last 16 years the SRF has provided more than 14,200 loans totaling $47 billion to communities to rehabilitate aging sewer plants, minimize raw sewage overflows and reduce stormwater runoff.
The group said many sewage treatment systems are falling apart and combined sewer and wet weather overflows are a particularly serious problem. "From 23,000 to 75,000 (overflows) occur nationwide annually, resulting in the release of 3 billion to 10 billion gallons of untreated wastewater, according to EPA estimates."