Every day seven billion gallons of clean drinking water are lost in the web of leaky pipes crisscrossing our nation.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, who represents the state’s 20th Congressional District and serves as a ranking member of the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, met with local representatives, business owners and citizens on a misty Thursday afternoon at the Yankee Distillery in Clifton Park to discuss growing concerns over the area’s aging drinking water infrastructure and what he considers inadequate federal funding. “We’re losing more than water,” he said. “We’re losing tax dollars.”
Tonko described the potential benefits of the Assistance, Quality and Affordability (AQUA) Act that he introduced in the House of Representatives on Feb 29. AQUA would build upon the work of the Safe Drinking Water Act by increasing infrastructure funding for local communities with lacking resources. The state’s main source of federal funding for drinking water infrastructure, The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, was created by amendments in 1996 to the Safe Drinking Water Act, originally enacted in 1974.
Clifton Park Supervisor Phil Barrett reminded the crowd that Clifton Park recently proposed a new idea for infrastructure funding based on the CHIPS program that funds local highways. He explained, “We receive money each year from the state and it goes directly to the improvement of our roadways. It’s allocated through a fair and equitable system. Our idea was to duplicate that with other infrastructure items such as sanitary, sewer, drinking water and stormwater needs — needs every community has.” Barrett expressed his hope that AQUA would lead to more funding.
Recalling the major water main break in Troy that resulted in a loss of over 10 million gallons of water this winter, Troy Mayor Patrick Madden said, “In two months in office, I’ve become the poster child of failing infrastructure.” He said it would cost about $2 million dollars to replace each mile of pipe in Troy; there are 145 miles of pipe in all. “It’s time for our generation to do what those who preceded us did — invest in infrastructure and invest in our future,” he said.
Tonko said hidden infrastructure such as water mains may be “out of sight but definitely cannot be out of mind.” Touring the state over the last two years, Tonko said, he saw pipes that lost half of their capacity due to calcification.
The 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill allocated $863 million for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund — a $44 million cut from 2015. According to Tonko, the entire Drinking Water State Revolving Fund for the nation would not cover the cost of replacing Flint, Michigan’s drinking water system.
A decade ago, the federal government contributed 6 to 7 percent of the necessary funding for water infrastructure needs. Today, Tonko said, the federal contribution is closer to 4 percent. He compared that to the federal government’s funding of transportation infrastructure — about 28 percent. “That’s weak.We need to do much better,” he said.
The first step of AQUA would raise funding to $3.1 billion and then increase funding by 15 percent each year for five years until the funds reach $5.5 billion.
Reach Gazette reporter Cady Kuzmich at 269-7239 or [email protected].