Water Woes Far Deeper Than Recent Spill

Updated 6 years ago From a Rep. Nick Rahall Release
Water Woes Far Deeper Than Recent Spill

The Elk River chemical spill in Charleston, and the subsequent loss of water services for 300,000 West Virginians in the Capital area, helped to turn attention to a need I have long fought to address -- the vital necessity of safer, more modern water and sewage and sanitation systems. 

For most households, safe and reliable water from the tap is taken for granted.  Turning on the faucet is done without a second thought.  

However, in too many communities, people, sadly, experience a much different reality.

In our State, and across the country, water systems that were installed a century ago are showing their age.  As a result, the flows of discolored and unsafe water along with boil water advisories are routine occurrences.  Citizens are forced to make due, spending precious, hard-earned dollars on bottled water just to make it through each day. 

With many water systems reaching the end of their useful life, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates $126 billion will be needed by 2020 for unmet drinking water needs, nationwide. 

So many of these communities are small and rural and don’t generate the millions of revenue dollars required for much-needed infrastructure projects, which leads to an impossible situation.  That is precisely why, throughout my career, I have battled to preserve federal programs that aid our communities in developing water and sewer systems.   And I have had to fight against the mindset of some who believe that our small communities and rural citizens should just have to fend for themselves. 


As a longtime member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the House of Representatives, I have strived mightily to address this issue – bringing Federal resources to our southern counties to build and maintain and repair our water and sanitation systems.

Among the agencies that fall under its vast jurisdiction, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee oversees the Economic Development Administration (EDA), the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, agencies that I have long supported.

One of my proudest successes has been the establishment of the Southern West Virginia Infrastructure Program, which employs the expertise of the Corps of Engineers.  Tapping into the resources of the Corps, this program has helped to fund needed water and wastewater projects throughout Southern West Virginia, bringing cleaner, safer water to families and businesses all across the region.

I also have secured funding for water projects through the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program.  The authority to use AML funds for water projects is a direct result of legislative provisions that I authored in 1992 and 2006. 

In addition, I am working across the aisle, with my Democratic and Republican colleagues, to pass the first reauthorization of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program since 1987.  This universally supported program provides vital federal assistance, annually, to West Virginia to address the most pressing wastewater and sewage needs of our State.

These kinds of infrastructure improvements create thousands of jobs during the construction phase, leverage billions of dollars in private-sector investment, and help to ensure a solid foundation for future business development.


Each year, I appeal directly to the House Appropriations Committee to increase funding for federal programs that support water and sewer system construction. 


Unfortunately, the House Republican ban on earmarks has shifted spending decisions from the Congress to bureaucrats within Executive agencies, and worsening the situation are the deep cuts being put forward by the Republican House that are hurting our State and programs and services important to us. 

With budget cuts hitting every part of the Federal budget, I have been fighting to preserve funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Development Water and Wastewater Loan and Grant programs, as well as Environmental Protection Agency programs that actually fund water and sewer construction.  These cuts, advocated by the House Republican majority, only add to the extensive project backlog that is overwhelming many communities and municipalities.

At every opportunity, I have and will continue to advocate federal investments in programs supporting this most basic of human infrastructure needs.

I believe our Nation must continue making investments until we reach a time when every faucet flows as expected with clean, clear, and drinkable water. 


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