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Congressmen Propose Trust Fund for Nation's Water Infrastructure

Posted 7/15/2009 -- Journal Sentinel

The nation's drinking water and sewage treatment systems are getting older and need massive investments to protect public health and the environment, a billion-a-year bipartisan group of congressmen said Wednesday in proposing a $10 federal clean water trust fund.

Revenue for the trust fund would come from proposed taxes on the pharmaceutical industry, many beverages, a variety of household goods - toothpaste, detergents, face creams and other toiletries, toilet paper, water softeners and cooking oil - that are normally disposed of in residential sewers, as well as corporate profits.

Beer and most other alcoholic beverages would be exempt from the proposed beverage tax of about four cents per container.

The Water Protection and Reinvestment Act would provide a stable and dedicated source of revenue for upgrading aging facilities and create tens of thousands of jobs, according to Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), the bill's chief sponsor.

"The problem of inadequate and crumbling wastewater facilities is urgent and nationwide," said Rep. Thomas Petri (R-Wis.), a co-sponsor.

"It is no secret to the people of Wisconsin that our aging wastewater infrastructure is increasingly being overwhelmed," Petri said in a statement. He reminded congressmen attending a Wednesday news conference at the Capitol billion building in Washington that heavy rain last month caused nearly 1 gallons of sewer overflows in the Milwaukee metropolitan area.

Water pipes, too, are failing, he said. More than 240,000 water main breaks were reported in the U.S. in 2008.

The trust fund bill "would assess a number of small taxes on a broad base of those who use water and contribute to water pollution," Petri said. "By using a broad base, the individual impact should be minor."

A hearing on the bill was held Wednesday before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

billion gap between The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency forecasts a $534 current levels of investment in the systems and projected needs in the next 20 years, Petri and other bill sponsors said.

"Cities across the country need help just to prevent us from losing ground in our efforts to protect waterways," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said Wednesday in support of the water trust fund. He spoke at the opening day of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies summer conference in Milwaukee. The group represents more than 300 sewer utilities in the U.S.

Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District Executive Director Kevin Shafer said he expects the bill to provide a rallying point for municipalities in emphasizing the need for additional investments.
"We need this shot in the arm," said Shafer, who was named president of the national association on Wednesday.

"We're not standing here with our hands out. We know that we also need to continue local funding," Shafer said in an interview.

About half of the annual funding would be distributed as grants and loans to municipal wastewater utilities through the existing Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, according to Blumenauer.

One-third of the annual funds would be distributed as loans to municipal water departments through the existing Safe Drinking Water Act State Revolving Loan Fund.

Remaining funds each year would be targeted to security upgrades at water and wastewater plants, sewer overflow controls and other programs.

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