AP NEWS

Improving our water infrastructure

January 9, 2019

Water is vital to life. It flows to our farms and ranches, to small businesses and large companies, and to our rural areas and urban cities. We rely on it every day to stay healthy, care for our families, and feed the world.

When Nebraskans think about infrastructure, they usually think of highways and bridges. But improving our water infrastructure across the state is also critical because it ensures our water stays clean and safe.

While my Senate colleagues and I may disagree on a variety of different issues, providing clean water for families at home is something we can work on together. This week, I’d like to report on a big legislative win for Nebraskans where we were able to do just that.

In December, I championed the passage of the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act. This was bipartisan, bicameral legislation I worked on for several years as a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. I’m happy we were able to move it across the finish line.

With a strong coalition of members from both sides of the aisle, we built consensus in the Senate and House of Representatives and sent this legislation to President Trump for his signature. Importantly, this bill breaks through red tape to enable communities in Nebraska and across the nation to prioritize storm and wastewater projects with integrated planning approaches that are more effective and affordable for ratepayers.

Many communities face aging water infrastructure systems. Inflexible government mandates make it financially impossible for communities to meet all their obligations. For years, this one-size-fits-all approach demands that communities update their water infrastructure projects without analyzing local budgets, ongoing projects, or costs to ratepayers. As a result, families in these communities are often stuck with more expensive utility bills to fund unrealistic compliance costs. According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, municipalities on average spend six to seven cents from every tax dollar on water and sewer systems. Behind education and emergency personnel, water infrastructure is the third-largest expense for cities across the nation.

To ensure that cities have the assistance they need to comply with these federal regulations, the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act establishes an Office of Municipal Ombudsman at the EPA. It will also encourage the EPA to promote the option of “green infrastructure.” This will allow communities to use their natural processes to infiltrate and reuse storm water runoff to their benefit.

This bill is particularly a legislative victory for residents in the Omaha area who understand this issue all too well. It is going to provide communities with flexibility to comply with CWA mandates in ways that are more effective, affordable, and better suited for communities like Omaha.

By working together in this way, we can be sure that our water infrastructure remains reliable.

We take great pride in protecting our environment and the abundant water systems. It’s the Nebraska way. I’ll keep working to ensure families stay healthy and safe, so they can keep living the good life. I will also continue to find areas where I can reach across the aisle and achieve good results for Nebraskans.

Thank you for your participation in our democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.

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