May 9, 2022
Vice President, Environmental Affairs and Sustainability, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Senior Vice President of Strategic Alliances and Outreach, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
The recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — also referred to as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — plans to address many of America’s pressing infrastructure issues. While much of the focus has been on building and improving bridges and roads while expanding access to high-speed internet, investing in water is of equal importance.
Improving the United States’ water systems is an opportunity to provide every American access to clean drinking water and enhance the U.S. economy. Rick Wade, SVP of Strategic Alliances and Outreach at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, spoke with Chuck Chaitovitz, Vice President of Environmental Affairs and Sustainability at the U.S. Chamber, about the bill and the importance of clean, accessible water systems.
The Bill Will Invest in Water Infrastructure Over Time
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law commits $55 billion to expand households' and public buildings’ access to clean drinking water. However, that’s just the money that is going to the EPA. Chaitovitz broke down the additional funding that the bill will contribute to water system needs.
“There’s additional money [in] bolstering state revolving funds, which are the traditional way in which states receive capitalization funds from Congress to issue low-interest loans to communities to address their water infrastructure needs,” said Chaitovitz.
“That's both on the drinking water and the clean-water side,” he continued. “The bill provides $23 billion to both the Drinking Water [State Revolving Fund] and Clean Water [State Revolving Fund]. That's more than $11 billion each over five years … more than twice as much as they typically receive in annual appropriations, which is just a little bit over $1 billion per year.”
There Is Only 2.5% of Drinkable Water on the Planet
While water is essential for people to survive, it is also critical to many of our lifeline infrastructure systems communities depend on across the nation. With only about 2.5% of fresh water on Earth, there’s an emphasis on improving the country’s water systems. Enhancing these systems gives us the ability to recycle and sanitize drinking water and provide people with better access.
“The majority of [clean water] is trapped in ice at the [North Pole],” explained Chaitovitz. ”While our planet may never run out of water, it's important to remember that clean, fresh water is not always available where and when humans need it.”
“Half the water around the world can only be found in nine countries,” he explained. “More than two billion people live without enough safe, clean drinking water, basic indoor plumbing, and sanitation. And there [are] approximately 2 million Americans without [this] access.”
Every Job Is a Water Job
Similar to the adage that “every job is a tech job,” water systems affect every industry in the nation.
“Farmers depend on water to grow crops [and] water is an important input into manufacturing and energy and urbanization,” said Chaitovitz. “Hospitals and doctors could not address the issues they had without water access.”
Water scarcity is a major issue that affects all of the above industries and more. Without access to clean water, these industries will suffer and negatively impact the economy.
Minority-Owned Businesses Play a Crucial Role in Addressing Water Needs
The funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law won’t automatically be given away in a uniform manner. Towns and communities will have to apply and get approval for the funds to be used for water system projects. Many of the funds that the bill provides need to be allocated to communities with pressing water issues. Businesses in these communities have to take responsibility for addressing these needs by securing the funding for their area.
“Small communities and communities of color where many of these businesses reside … need technical assistance to access and administer … these funds,” said Chaitovitz.
“Innovative solutions are going to be critical in order to push forward and accelerate access to clean water and to get water infrastructure in place across our nation,” he said.
From the Series