Bill would help small Nevada communities provide cleaner, safer drinking water

Nevada Senators Harry Reid and John Ensign today introduced legislation to provide federal aid to small communities in Nevada and nationwide to safeguard drinking water quality and to protect public health through enhanced water treatment and other infrastructure improvements.

Washington, D.C., March 9, 2001 - Nevada Senators Harry Reid and John Ensign today introduced legislation to provide federal aid to small communities in Nevada and nationwide to safeguard drinking water quality and to protect public health through enhanced water treatment and other infrastructure improvements.

"Small communities in Nevada are struggling to meet the cost of providing safe, clean drinking water for all their residents. This legislation would lend a helping hand to towns with less than 10,000 people by providing these communities the funding needed to improve infrastructure and overall water quality, including reducing levels of arsenic and other dangerous contaminants," said Reid, the Assistant Democratic Leader."

"Nothing is more important than safe drinking water, especially in our small towns that have been impacted by arsenic. But some small communities just don't have the resources to pay for improvements that are necessitated by federal clean water regulations," Ensign said. "My personal philosophy has always been that if the federal government mandates it, then the federal government should pay for that mandate," he added

Entitled the Small Community Safe Drinking Water Funding Act, Senate Bill S. 503 would establish a program to provide $750 million annually to Native American Tribes and individual states to make grants to public water systems serving small communities. States would be guaranteed a minimum of one-percent of funds.

While the need for infrastructure improvements can be found in small communities from coast-to-coast, the Nevada example illustrates the importance of increasing federal assistance to promote safe drinking water. Estimates show that small communities in Nevada will require millions in funding to upgrade existing water systems.

"Statistics show that 98% of public drinking water systems in the Silver state are small systems and Nevada's rural communities are facing millions and millions of dollars in needed upgrades. Without federal assistance many of these small towns will have to forgo improvements needed to ensure safe drinking water," said Reid, the top democrat or Ranking Member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

The dilemma faced by small communities has been highlighted recently by Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) new drinking water standard for arsenic. Arsenic is a naturally-occurring contaminant that impacts drinking water supplies in Nevada, and other states throughout the west and northeast. The public health threat posed by arsenic in drinking water is well-established by scientists. But despite the public health impact, many small communities find it extremely difficult to finance the improvements needed to meet the new standard.

While communities of every size benefit as a result of safer drinking water, the cost of improving water quality disproportionately impacts towns with small populations. The cost for water infrastructure improvements is almost four times higher for small water systems than for large ones. And because small communities lack the tax base of their larger counterparts, the cost per-household is much higher.

The legislation provides substantial flexibility to states in distributing money as grants according to local needs. The Act would also streamline the workload associated with a new grant program by taking advantage of procedures already in place through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program.

The drinking water treatment needs of Indian Tribes and Alaskan Native Villages would also be addressed through a $15 million EPA-administered grants program modeled after the one established for states. This money will be targeted, in the form of grants, to those small communities determined to be in most need of drinking water system improvements.

Finally, the legislation would ensure that small, disadvantaged communities receiving grants have access to technical assistance through nonprofit organizations which will help small communities to plan, implement, and maintain the drinking water projects funded through grants.

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