Water Infrastructure: Washington’s Bipartisan Rallying Point?

Mae Stevens

Mae Stevens, Executive Vice President of Advocacy & Chair of Signal Water, discusses the pivotal moment taking place for the water sector as the Biden Administration release new infrastructure proposals.

Happy Water Week 2021! While all of us in the sector are missing the usual fun, in-person gatherings, this year’s event comes at a pivotal moment for water. The Biden Administration and Congress are hashing out the specifics of various infrastructure proposals intended to get Americans back to work, and water infrastructure stands to be one of the biggest winners.
 
Since the release of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan framework on March 31, which proposes $111 Billion in water infrastructure spending, the administration has been hitting the pavement– selling the $2.25 Trillion plan to the country through a series of events and press appearances. They are also working to shore up support for the plan within the Democratic Party.
 
White House Senior Advisor Anita Dunn made the case in a recent memo that rallying around the President’s proposal is a winning issue for Democrats because the plan’s individual components poll even higher with voters than the incredibly popular $1.9T American Rescue Plan passed in March. In her analysis, she cites high public support (between 74-87%) in 7 key areas – new job training for coal miners, highway and bridge work, increasing affordable childcare, expanding broadband access, expanding family and medical leave, upgrading public transportation, and investing in clean energy.
 
Dunn is correct – infrastructure spending is incredibly popular with Americans. However, she left out one critical sector that is also very popular: water infrastructure. According to new data out this week from the Value of Water, ensuring a reliable supply of water polls higher than any other single national priority—even higher than strengthening the economy and eliminating COVID-19. Additionally, 78% of voters support increased federal water infrastructure investment. This support notably cuts across all major demographic groups, including party lines.
 
While the Biden plan is unprecedented in terms of its timing and historic levels of funding, the strong bipartisan support for this type of spending is nothing new. The most recent Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) bills that included drinking water and wastewater titles received overwhelming support across the political spectrum – WRDA 2018 passed the Senate with a vote of 99-1 and WRDA 2016 passed 95-3. This spirit of compromise has continued into the 117th Congress, as the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act (DWWIA) of 2021 was unanimously reported out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in early April and Senate Republicans—led by EPW Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito—included robust funding in their infrastructure counter offer last week.
 
With all eyes on Congress this summer, the historically bipartisan area of water infrastructure may serve as a key indicator for how willing and able lawmakers will be to break their current partisan deadlock on infrastructure. While much remains uncertain, water infrastructure investment is receiving historic levels of attention and the sector is undeniably well positioned to get the help it has long needed. This Water Week, stakeholders should focus their energy on turning this attention into action and securing the critical federal funding needed to address upgrades to aging infrastructure, remediation of emerging contaminants, and water affordability concerns.
 
For more information, visit: http://www.signaldc.com/water or follow our Chair, Mae Stevens on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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