Water infrastructure plays a critical role in supporting the agriculture industry, providing protection from floods and increasing access to clean drinking water in communities across Arkansas. Water and wastewater systems are an essential part of our everyday lives, but we are facing challenges to ensuring they continue to meet our needs. As discussions ramp up about ways for Congress to address our nation’s infrastructure shortfalls, improvements to aging water systems must be part of that plan.
As a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, I’m working to strengthen our water infrastructure so Arkansans will have reliable access to drinking water well into the future, no matter where they live. The Arkansas Rural Water Association (ARWA) plays a key role in maintaining safe and effective drinking water and wastewater services in rural communities throughout the Natural State and helping provide assistance to support the needs of utility operators.
In Arkansas, approximately 340 of the 370 community wastewater utilities serve small geographic localities. With a smaller population density, rural utilities find it more difficult to complete the necessary maintenance and upgrades in order to remain in compliance with safety and environmental standards and provide safe, reliable access to their customers.
In a rural state like Arkansas, sometimes it is difficult to fully fund vitally important drinking water projects. That’s why I helped develop an innovative approach to modernizing critical water infrastructure that makes the process easier and more affordable for states seeking to meet underserved or unmet water infrastructure needs. My proposal was incorporated into the America’s Water Infrastructure Act that was signed into law last Congress. My colleagues and I are continuing to support the program, approving $5 million for it a few short months ago, because we know it can help states and communities modernize their water infrastructure.
There is bipartisan agreement that more needs to be done to update critical water systems. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has invested millions of dollars into rural drinking water projects in Arkansas that fund updates for old pipes, improvements to water pressure, maintenance of water quality and reduction of water loss, among other enhancements. As ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I understand how important this program is to rural communities and will continue to advocate for more assistance for rural America to develop and implement solutions to drinking water challenges.
National non-profit organizations are also helping. During a recent meeting with the Water Systems Council (WSC), I applauded its work to provide Arkansas families with access to clean and reliable drinking water. Its efforts have helped families like the Frazees in Rogers who had been relying on hauling water from a nearby source for their non-drinking water needs. In 2014, I connected the family with the WSC which worked to drill wells that brought efficient, fresh drinking water to the family and their neighbors.
We all share the common goal of ensuring our systems are capable of delivering clean and reliable water to all in need. Our policies and investments must reflect the urgency that exists in providing access to this basic resource. I look forward to further championing this issue and supporting more projects that strengthen our water resources.