Senators introduce bill to invest $1.8B to modernize sewers, address overflows

Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and George Voinovich (R-OH) have introduced legislation to authorize $1.8 billion in federal grants to help modernize antiquated sewer systems...

WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 30, 2009 -- Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and George Voinovich (R-OH) have introduced legislation to authorize $1.8 billion in federal grants to help modernize antiquated sewer systems. These sewers frequently overflow directly into rivers, lakes, streams and coastal waters during wet weather events, threatening water quality and public health and undermining local economies. Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) are also co-sponsors of the bill.

"We need to make a serious commitment to restoring our sewer systems, which are a critical part of the nation's infrastructure," Sen. Lautenberg said. "This investment is needed to ensure our waters are safe for drinking, swimming, fishing and other uses."

"Our legislation holds the federal government responsible for paying its fair share for the nation's pressing water and wastewater infrastructure needs," Sen. Voinovich said. "We cannot expect cities to spend millions of dollars for water infrastructure upgrades without help from the federal government. We have a ticking time bomb ready to blow up if we don't act now."

"No New Jerseyan should have to worry about sewage overflow into the water supply," said Sen. Menendez. "Revamping our aging and overwhelmed sewer systems is long overdue, and the Water Quality Investment Act is an important step in the right direction. We need to give communities this additional tool while we work on a long term solution to address this major health and environmental issue and ensure the safety of our families."

"We depend on sound water infrastructure to protect public health and our environment," said Sen. Whitehouse. "This bill would make a substantial investment to help local governments improve their water management systems."

"Quality water and sewer infrastructure is critical to public health and economic development," Sen. Brown said. "We need to help local communities make the necessary upgrades to protect the public and bring new jobs and economic activity."

The Water Quality Investment Act would authorize a $1.8 billion, five year federal grant program in the Clean Water Act. The program would provide funds directly to local governments in the first two years of the program. Over the next three years, funding would be allocated to states, based on need to address problems of overflowing sewer systems. Sates will then distribute the funding to local governments.

Many municipalities face problems with their Combined Sewer Systems (CSS), where sanitary sewage, industrial discharge and storm water are sent through the same pipe on the way to be treated. When flooding or heavy rainfall occur, excess water, sewage, and industrial waste are discharged into bodies of water, creating a public health hazard and harming water quality and the environment. These overflows occur in 31 states and the District of Columbia, and put the public's health at risk in 772 U.S. municipalities. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that about 850 billion gallons of untreated wastewater and storm water from these systems are released into streams, lakes, rivers and estuaries each year.

Separate sewer systems are not immune from those problems facing combined systems, and often overflow as well, sending untreated sewage into the waterways, streets, parks, and homes of communities in every state. EPA estimates that between three billion and 10 billion gallons of untreated waste are spilled from these systems each year. In 2003, one such spill required the closure of 30,000 acres of shellfish beds in Raritan Bay.

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