Weekly Columns

In the State of the Union address, President Donald Trump urged Congress to send him a bill that will provide “safe, fast, reliable and modern infrastructure.” I agree that we need to make critical infrastructure investments. As a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, I’m working to do just that because infrastructure investment boosts our economy, creates immediate jobs and produces decades of economic opportunity. Since being elected to Congress, I have been a constant advocate for increased investment, particularly in our nation’s water resources.

In water infrastructure funding alone, the United States faces an over $500 billion shortfall, which includes drinking water, wastewater, stormwater and water supply projects. This funding shortage is reflected in the American Society of Civil Engineers’ overall grade for America’s infrastructure, a D+.

This is a national emergency. We need to prioritize and fund our nation’s water infrastructure. The EPW Committee has already held two hearings this year on the needs and challenges of our nation’s water infrastructure. As we work to craft and pass a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), we are examining water infrastructure requirements nationwide. 

In Arkansas, this means funding the 12-foot channel for the Arkansas River. Arkansas and Oklahoma have been working for years to deepen the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS) so barges and boats can carry larger loads. Deepening the channel would provide a 40 percent increase in the capacity of river barges to transport products for Arkansas farmers and factories and reduce the price of goods for consumers across the country. I’ve long supported this initiative and will continue to prioritize and advocate for the project. 

I’m also leading a new bipartisan effort to reject the fix-as-fail approach currently used to maintain the nation’s infrastructure by introducing the Securing Required Funding for Water Infrastructure Now (SRF WIN) Act. This legislation would modernize water infrastructure investment by empowering states to invest in multiple water infrastructure projects. The bill combines the best aspects of state revolving funds (SRFs) with the leveraging power of the Water Infrastructure and Innovation Act (WIFIA) to make the process easier and more affordable for states to meet their underserved or unmet water infrastructure needs. This bill is an innovative approach to helping communities of all sizes, in every state secure loans so they can improve their aging infrastructure.

Water infrastructure investment needs to be a priority. Access to safe and reliable water is critical for all Americans. It is time for leaders across the country to be realistic about our water problems and commit to funding this vital building block. Clean water and safe roads, railways and bridges are important to public safety. I am hopeful that comprehensive legislation to repair to our nation’s infrastructure will have bipartisan support. Improving, upgrading and investing in our water infrastructure is a great place to start.