Weekly Columns

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) infrastructure report card does not look kindly on our nation’s drinking water infrastructure. They give it a D. It’s a brutal assessment, but it needs to be a wake-up call for policymakers.

Access to clean drinking water is not a rural problem or a big city problem, it is not a Republican or Democrat problem, it is a national emergency and we need to find solutions before it is too late. 

It is one thing to see these terrible grades on paper, but what does this actually mean for people in their day-to-day lives?

Rogers resident Mike Frazee recently shared his story with the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife to give policymakers that real life insight. I invited him to testify during a hearing to address problems with America’s water infrastructure system and possible funding and financing investment. 

In 2014, I connected Mike with the Water Systems Council which worked with him to drill wells that brought efficient, fresh drinking water to him and his neighbors’ homes. Since then, Frazee has been an advocate in his community regarding expanding access to drinking water to rural areas. Whenever he sees someone hauling water for lack of access to a well or public water system, he stops them and tells them about the assistance options that are available.

Mike’s experience living with no access to safe, reliable drinking water is surprisingly not unique.

Currently, an estimated 1.7 million Americans live without access to clean, running drinking water in their homes. The estimated cost to provide improved rural drinking water facilities totals more than $60 billion, with the needs of water systems in American Indian and Alaska Native villages accounting for $3.3 billion alone.

As my colleagues and I on the EPW Committee develop legislation to address our nation’s infrastructure needs, we are stressing to the administration the importance of broadening the scope of traditional infrastructure investment. Our water infrastructure is a perfect place to start.

I have long advocated that we need to significantly upgrade our nation’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. In fact, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and I introduced bipartisan legislation this session of Congress that seeks to bring affordable relief to America’s crumbling water infrastructure systems. There are plenty of innovative, commonsense approaches we can take to address this issue and a major infrastructure plan like the one President Trump has touted would be the ideal way to pursue such solutions.

We are in a position to address this problem. We have an Administration that has made infrastructure investment a top priority, coupled with bipartisan support in both the Senate and House. We have an incredible opportunity to work across the aisle and get back on track to making America’s water infrastructure the best in the world.

The time to act is now. Developing an infrastructure bill that directly addresses America’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure challenges must be a priority that Congress adopts and brings to fruition. I’ll be encouraging my colleagues to recognize the critical nature of this issue and working with them to make the impact we urgently need.