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House Energy & Commerce Committee Passes Drinking Water Measure

As part of a larger seven bill markup session on Thursday, July 27th, the House Energy & Commerce Committee passed HR 3387, the Drinking Water System Improvement Act.  These wide-ranging amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) enjoyed substantial bipartisan support and, in speaking of the bill, Chairman Walden (R-OR) noted that the measure meets three critical needs:

  1. Increases funding for critical efforts;
  2. Assists compliance for both utilities and states; and
  3. Enhances operation of the drinking water program.

The bill addresses several issues of significance for state drinking water programs.  Among many provisions, this bill:

  • Reauthorizes PWSS grants to provide $150 million for FYs 18-22
  • Reauthorizes DWSRF capitalization grants to provide $1.2 billion in FY 18 and an annual increase of $200 million for each fiscal year through 2022 when the authorization is $2 billion
  • Expands DWSRF fund use to include rehab and replacement of aging treatment, storage, or distribution facilities
  • Disadvantaged community DWSRF reservation maximums are increased from 30% to 35% and now have a minimum 6%; repayment periods are extended to 40 years; and repayments now may begin 18 months versus 12 months after projects are completed.

The bill also calls for EPA to establish two new grant programs.  The first would provide assistance to local educational agencies for the replacement of drinking water fountains manufactured prior to 1988 and authorizes not more than $5 million for each fiscal year 2018-2022.  The second would provide for a review of existing and potential methods, means, equipment, and technologies that ensure the physical integrity of community water systems; prevent, detect, and respond to contaminants; allow use of nontraditional alternate drinking water supplies; and facilitate source water assessment and protection.
Other provisions of interest include revisions for Consumer Confidence Report content and delivery timeframes; inclusion of lead service line replacement as a needs survey category; development of a strategic plan to improve the accuracy and availability of compliance monitoring data; inclusion of information on how states will encourage development of and implementation assistance for asset management as part of their capacity development program; and a call for an analysis of Federal cross-cutter requirements.
Three bipartisan amendments were offered en bloc during the markup that are not yet available on the Committee’s website.  The en bloc amendment calls for:  1) UCMR monitoring to be required for all systems serving more than 3,300 people to take effect not later than three years after enactment unless EPA cannot identify enough labs to take on the additional work; 2) water systems will be required to undertake vulnerability assessments and prepare/update emergency response plans; and 3) water systems with repeat significant violations will have to consider restructuring or consolidation efforts and states and EPA are authorized to require such actions for chronic noncompliers.
Despite the breadth of topics covered in HR 3387, the bill language only covers 24 pages.  You may download the bill at https://www.congress.gov/ (type in HR 3387 in the query box).  ASDWA expects that the en bloc amendment language will be made available on that website in the next few days.  The Committee expects that this legislation will move to the House Floor and be taken up shortly after the August recess.  It’s not clear when the Senate might start action on a comparable bill, so the drinking water sector is a ways away from seeing completed SDWA Amendments.