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"Flint is the poster child for the problem:" more Fed infrastructure spending proposed

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

The federal government would spend tens of billions of  dollars repairing the nation’s water infrastructure over the next decade if a bill introduced in Congress today becomes law.

The Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act would infuse State Revolving Funds with $35 billion a year.    The money would go to improving drinking water and wastewater services by dedicating a source of federal funding for community water and wastewater systems. Grants could also be used to replace lead service lines going into homes, removing lead pipes and plumbing in schools, construct and improve household drinking water wells and upgrade home septic systems.

Credit steve carmody / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn) (file photo)

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn) introduced the bill on the 4th anniversary of Flint’s ill-advised switch to the Flint River as its drinking water source. Improperly treated river water damaged city pipes, which leeched lead into the tap water. Tests show lead levels are now within state and federal quality standards.  However, the water system is still being repaired and residents remain leery of what comes from their taps.

Ellison says Flint is not alone.

“All over the country, we need a solution to water infrastructure,” says Ellison. “Flint is the poster child for the problem, but the problem is, without a doubt, nationwide.”

The WATER act of 2018 has the support of a wide range of labor unions and activist groups.

“The WATER Act is the path our elected officials need to take in order to fix our inexcusable and long-standing water issues in the United States,” says Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch.

It’s not clear if Republican majorities in Congress would be willing to even consider expanding the federal government’s role in water infrastructure.

Rep. Ellison is not deterred. He says this is a problem in many parts of the United States, including many congressional districts represented by Republicans.

“Given the state of affairs of our water systems across the United States, we might win some supporters in some unlikely places,” says Ellison. 

Michigan congressmen Dan Kildee (D-Flint) and Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) are among the bill’s sponsors.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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