House Committee Ups DWSRF Authorization Levels; BP Spill Produces Pressure For Pipeline Safety Revisions

July 2010 Vol. 65 No. 7

If Congress finally passes a Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) reauthorization this year, it may be because of Dunkin' Donuts. A store outside Boston was the scene of a near riot in May when it was unable to offer its customers coffee because of a shortage of water caused by a breach in a seven-year old water pipe which affected over two million Boston residents. The Boston newspapers called the water disaster "Aquapocalypse."

That incident was related by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), chairman of the House energy and environment subcommittee, who is the prime sponsor of the Assistance, Quality and Affordability Act (AQUA) (HR 5320) which passed the full Energy and Commerce Committee by a vote of 45-1 on May 26. The legislation authorizes $14.7 billion in new funding for the DW SRF program over five years. The bill increases water project funding from $1.5 billion in 2011 to $6 billion in 2015.

Authorization levels provide ceilings up to which Congress can appropriate each year. Those authorization levels are often not reached by those appropriations, and that would certainly be the case here, if this bill passes Congress, given increasing concern in Congress and the public about the federal deficit.

Besides increasing the DWSRF authorization level, the bill also expands uses of the DWSRF to include replacement and rehabilitation of old pipes. Some states have revised their state laws to allow for such spending, but the federal program prohibits it. The AQUA also directs states to give greater weight to state and/or local DWSRF applications if the system improves its efficiency or reduces its environmental impact through measures like increased water efficiency or conservation, greater source water protections, and actions to develop sustainable energy on site. Lastly, the bill includes a "Buy American" provision and a Davis-Bacon "prevailing wage" provision.