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U.S. Must Add To Funding Of Nation's Water Systems
Mike Murphy

Most Americans consider one of their inalienable rights to be access to clean and safe water. Americans also assume their government virtually guarantees that right.

Anyone who believes that is wrong.

The federal government has dramatically slashed its funding of the costs to maintain a clean and safe water infrastructure. Thirty years ago, the U.S. government funded 75% of these costs -- today, it funds just 5%, leaving the remainder to cash-strapped local communities.

Pollster Frank Luntz has conducted a national survey to evaluate Americans' support of federal funding for clean and safe water infrastructure. The results are clear: America needs clean and safe water, and Americans expect the federal government to help provide it.

Yet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says if the current funding gap is not addressed and overcome, the country risks losing 30 years of progress -- progress that has come in the form of public health, environmental improvements and economic gains resulting from the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts.

The Luntz Research Cos. survey clearly shows Americans believe clean and safe water is a right and a legislative must. Perhaps not too surprising, but what is remarkable is the depth of feeling that respondents demonstrated on this issue.

Despite the expanding federal deficit, 84% of respondents say they would support legislation in the U.S. Congress that would create a long-term, sustainable and reliable source of national funding for clean and safe water infrastructure.

In fact, 61% said they believe that safe and clean water is a right, not a privilege. Combine this with the fact that 72% of respondents are either extremely or very concerned about clean air and clean water and you will understand both the intensity of feeling and the desire for immediate action.

Carolinas AGC and its national parent organization, Associated General Contractors of America, are working with key members of Congress to encourage passage of water and wastewater funding legislation.

The funding will go to improving outdated water/wastewater infrastructure around the country. Charlotte and most of the Carolinas are in need of the funding to update our infrastructure. The Luntz survey asked Americans what was more important to them: How their U.S. Representative votes on issues affecting clean and safe water, or how he votes on issues such as aid to foreign countries.

Despite the attention foreign aid has received during the last year, a remarkable 77% said clean and safe water was more important.

This is evidence that the safety of water has real legs and will not disappear until it is solved.

Americans also say they are willing to pay additional tax dollars for this right.

Fully 70% of those surveyed said they would support a 1% tax increase if they knew that all the receipts would be dedicated to establishing and preserving a safe and clean water infrastructure in their area.

Luntz says the reason "a clean and safe water trust fund has such universal support is because it combines the key issue of health and the key attribute of 'the future.' Put another way, clean water is a health issue, not an environmental concern. And it is as much about tomorrow as it is today."

Clean and safe water is something we can all agree on. Providing the funding to maintain and update the nation's water/wastewater infrastructure is something the federal government should do for the benefit of all Americans.

Mike Murphy is president of Turner Murphy Co. in Rock Hill. He's the 2003 chairman of the Carolinas AGC utility division.

2003 American City Business Journals Inc.

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