As the Flint, Mich., water crisis continues, AWWA this week launched a Lead Resource Community to track the latest news and policy developments, highlight statements and outreach tools, and provide insights and guidance on corrosion control and other lead management issues.
Meanwhile, the lead in drinking water situation in Flint reached the halls of U.S. Congress in a big way this week. On Wednesday, Flint was the subject of a contentious hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Yesterday, the Flint issue blocked passage of a comprehensive energy bill.
The central debate Thursday was whether to include some form of aid to Flint as an amendment to an energy bill (S. 2012) on the Senate floor. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., had vowed to hold up the energy bill unless Flint financial aid was included, and that’s precisely what happened. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Senate Majority Whip, had stated that relief for Flint should first be handled at the local and state level, and the state has not yet fully assessed its needs in this situation. Further, there is a parliamentary rule that spending legislation must originate in the House.
Stabenow has proposed a number of amendments. Some of them would make use of a combination of the state revolving loan fund program and the new Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program, or WIFIA. Because Flint is in financial distress and could not seek a loan, Stabenow would have funds appropriated, $60 million, to the state of Michigan. With WIFIA's ability to leverage appropriations into larger loans, this could mean Michigan could get a loan of $600 million. Then the state could conceivably make a grant or grants to Flint itself. A State Revolving Fund loan could also be used for some of the lead relief efforts in Stabenow's amendments.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla, chair of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, has proposed an amendment that would use WIFIA and the SRF similar to how Stabenow would. However, he would offset the costs by taking money from a vehicle research program at the Department of Energy. This outraged Stabenow because this program would benefit the auto industry.
As a leading driver behind WIFIA’s creation in 2014, AWWA is closely monitoring how it may or may not be a good fit for addressing the situation in Flint. WIFIA was designed to provide loans for large-scale, long-term projects, not for disaster relief and grants. Obtaining appropriations for proposals that repurpose the law could tie Congress in knots.
For now, the Senate is still trying to come to an agreement on the energy bill that includes financial aid for Flint.
Following up on its Jan. 19 public statement, AWWA distributed a Public Affairs Advisory to utility members last week with recommended updated messaging points to help them communicate with customers about Flint and the broader issues of lead. Among the key points made are that:
- Flint underscores that as water providers our first job is to protect the families we serve.
- There is positive movement in the national approach to eliminating lead risks. The U.S. federal regulation that address lead in drinking water – the Lead and Copper Rule – is currently under revision. The National Drinking Water Advisory Council, which advises the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has recommended that utilities should create plans for removal of all lead service lines within their systems, with a shared responsibility between the utility and their customers. It also advised that utilities should engage in more outreach to customers on lead, including assisting them with testing their water.
- Replacing lead service lines require a collaborative effort between customers and utilities. So as communities and as a broader society, we must advance a serious discussion on how we pay to get the lead out.
- There are steps consumers can take today to protect themselves from lead, including having their water tested by a certified lab, finding out if they have a lead service line or lead in home plumbing, purchasing a certified water filter to remove lead, flushing out lines after a period of stagnation in order to get fresh water that is coming from the main, and avoiding consuming hot water from the tap, which is more likely to contain lead. More guidance is available on www.DrinkTap.org.
The Value of Water Coalition, of which AWWA is a founding member, distributed a statement yesterday echoing some of the same themes. It said the coalition “ believes this is an important moment for America to commit to a future where everyone can count on reliable and safe water service -- now, and for future generations.” It also put forth a set of principles for securing a sustainable water future.
Eight water associations, including AWWA, also released a statement, which read in part: “The water sector organizations understand that we must also help lead and shape a broader dialogue on the massive water infrastructure needs facing America and the appropriate policy steps to guarantee a sustainable and strong local‐state‐federal partnership to address them. We also understand that affordability issues are playing a larger role in providing fundamental drinking water and clean water services to our communities, and that this too will need to be a key topic of this broader discussion.”
The Michigan Section’s Executive Committee sent a letter to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, encouraging him to consider water professionals on the Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee. The section committee also met with some of Gov. Snyder’s staff to invite them to tap into AWWA resources in Michigan and across the country. The Association and the Michigan Section have been working closely to coordinate this as well as other activities.
Standard Method offered
In response to the lead concerns, the sponsoring societies for Standard Methods -- AWWA, the Water Environment Federation and the American Public Health Association – are making available free of charge a method to measure lead in drinking water. It is available from the Lead Resource Community.