04.23.21

Reed & Whitehouse Deliver Nearly $22 Million for RI Clean Water Projects & Call on Congress to Put Clean Water Upgrades on Tap in New Infrastructure Bill

PROVIDENCE, RI – In an effort to help create jobs and improve Rhode Island’s water quality, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse secured nearly $22 million in the fiscal year 2021 Consolidated Appropriations law to upgrade the state’s water infrastructure.

Today, Senators Reed and Whitehouse joined with officials from the Narragansett Bay Commission, the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, and Save The Bay to outline how these funds will be put to work in the Ocean State.

Senators Reed and Whitehouse also highlighted an initiative they are backing to eliminate the scourge of lead contamination in drinking water nationwide. The U.S. Senators are calling for new federal investments to help local communities replace 10 million miles of lead pipe service lines within the next 10 years and say Congress must include significant clean water investments in the upcoming infrastructure bill.

The U.S. Senate is poised to advance the bipartisan Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act, which would authorize $35 billion for drinking water and wastewater projects. But Senators Reed and Whitehouse say even more water infrastructure investments are needed to address inadequate and aging water delivery systems in communities around the country.

Thanks to Reed’s work on the Appropriations Committee, and Whitehouse’s work on the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, Rhode Island will receive $10.77 million through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) and $11 million through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. SRFs make both short-term and long-term investments in communities across the country and provide financial savings for clean water and drinking water projects that protect public health, preserve the environment, and help conserve local watersheds.

“Clean water is essential for public health and the health of our economy and environment. The federal government must do its part to fix existing water woes and ensure healthy, safe water in our communities. I am proud to deliver this vital funding to help put Rhode Islanders to work modernizing our water infrastructure, reducing pollution, and protecting public health. But more federal assistance is needed and now is the time to upgrade our water and wastewater infrastructure,” said Senator Reed.

“Clean, lead-free water is a foundation of public health – especially for children,” said Senator Whitehouse. “Senator Reed delivered this funding through the Appropriations Committee to upgrade Rhode Island’s water infrastructure, and I’m hard at work in the Environment and Public Works Committee to pass a new program that will provide more funding to replace old water pipes and service lines.”

“We know that clean water jobs are good jobs. They enhance not only the economy but also the environment and public health. So often, we’re asked to solve tomorrow’s problems with last century’s infrastructure. We need a significant federal investment, like the American Jobs Act, to make these projects happen. I’m very grateful to our Congressional delegation for the support they have always given to the Narragansett Bay Commission in recognizing the absolute critical nature of clean water in our communities,” said Vincent Mesolella, Chairman of the Narragansett Bay Commission.

“Investing in water infrastructure is investing in the health of Rhode Islanders, the health of our rivers, bays, and beaches, and in our economy,” said Jeffrey Diehl, Executive Director and CEO of Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank. “Thanks to the work of our Congressional delegation securing these funds for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs, the Infrastructure Bank will be able to invest in safe, clean drinking water and wastewater projects across the state. Projects that will improve the resiliency and efficiency of wastewater treatment facilities, implement new green infrastructure to manage stormwater, and upgrade statewide drinking water systems including the replacement of lead pipes. All of these projects will create good jobs and contribute to Rhode Island’s economy. And should the American Jobs Plan be passed by Congress, we would be able to dramatically ramp-up our investments in replacing and upgrading deteriorating infrastructure of all kinds across the state while making it more resilient. These are bold, needed investments to upgrade our state’s infrastructure and create 21st century green economy jobs. We thank Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation for their work to secure these funds.”

“In just a few weeks, the waters of Narragansett Bay will be teeming with both wildlife and activity—something Rhode Islanders never would have dreamed possible even a few decades ago. The transformation we've seen in the Bay has largely been made possible by investments in clean water infrastructure, and with the support of the General Assembly, the voters of Rhode Island, and our congressional delegation,” said Topher Hamblett, Save The Bay’s director of advocacy. “The investments announced today by Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse further demonstrate their commitment, and the commitment of Rhode Islanders, to ensuring this progress continues.”

President Biden’s American Jobs Plan proposes a total of $111 billion dollars in clean water and drinking water investments, including: $45 billion in federal grants to help water utilities replace lead water lines; $56 billion for water and sewer projects; and $10 billion to help clean up and remove polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – also known as “forever chemicals” often found near military bases, airports, and other sites that have used firefighting foam.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are the primary sources of federal funding for water infrastructure projects in Rhode Island.

On December 22, 2020, after President Trump lost the election, his Administration published its final revisions to the outdated Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), which would slow replacement of lead-tainted water lines. On his first day in office, President Biden signed a memo to halt the rule from going into effect.

“The Trump Administration’s changes to the lead and copper rule was a step backwards for public health. We should be strengthening the LCR, moving our nation forward, and investing in the future. Now is the time to do that and better protect communities -- particularly children and pregnant mothers -- from exposure to lead in drinking water,” said Senator Reed. “This is a nationwide problem and so the federal government needs to step in, not just with guidance, but actual resources so utilities can replace lead pipes and get contamination out of our drinking water systems.”

“I’m very glad the Biden administration made lead pipe replacement a Day One priority,” said Whitehouse. “There are few infrastructure investments we can make that will have a bigger payoff for public health than upgrading drinking water systems in Rhode Island and across the country.”

Last year, Providence Water, the manager of the Scituate Reservoir and the largest provider of drinking water in Rhode Island, presented a multi-year plan to replace both public and private service lines that contain lead.

Nationwide, and in Rhode Island, the persistent public health threat of elevated levels of lead in water has been exacerbated during the pandemic because so many young children and their families are staying home and drinking from the same water source, or being exposed to lead within the home, and the number of childhood lead screenings are down. In a March New York Times story titled More Childhood Lead Poisoning Is a Side Effect of Covid Lockdowns, the newspaper reported: “Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that in the early months of the pandemic, roughly 10,000 children with elevated levels of lead in their blood may have gone undetected. Hundreds of thousands of children have missed their essential tests for lead,” said Joseph Courtney, a senior epidemiologist at the C.D.C.’s lead poisoning prevention and environmental health tracking branch, who conducted the analysis. “And it’s something that has potentially permanent lifetime effects.”

“A parent who turns on the tap at 2 am to make a bottle of formula needs water that is safe and lead-free,” said Laura Brion, Executive Director of the Childhood Lead Action Project. “This funding would make what Rhode Islanders deserve possible - full lead pipe replacement, at no cost to homeowners. Lead pipes are a threat statewide, and the injustice of this is greatest in Providence, where drinking water tests show high lead levels year after year, adding insult to injury for children already facing increased lead exposure risk from paint and contaminated soil.”

The EPA recently announced it will host upcoming virtual public listening sessions on April 28 and May 5 to discuss updates to the LCR. Rhode Islanders wishing to share their views at this public forum may sign up for a three-minute speaking slot at: www.epa.gov/safewater.