Wicker champions rural water bill

Published 7:00 am Thursday, May 7, 2015

Addressing local water needs is a major responsibility for small and rural communities.
In fact, most of America’s drinking water and wastewater systems serve areas with fewer than 10,000 residents. These services are central to quality of life and long-term economic development – not to mention public health.
Small Water Systems Need Support
A safe and reliable water supply depends on the work of local utilities, which are tasked with meeting standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In small and rural communities, limited access to technology and expertise can make complying with federal rules a daunting challenge. Unlike large metropolitan areas with stronger tax bases, localities with small water systems often struggle to afford costly, EPA-mandated upgrades. Fines for noncompliance with federal regulations only make the problem worse.
In practice, many municipalities rely on nonprofit organizations like state rural water associations for help. The training and technical assistance that these organizations provide are crucial to improving water resources nationwide. In 2010, for example, more than 20,000 communities received this type of assistance.
Targeting a Community’s Specific Needs
Earlier this year, I introduced bipartisan legislation to support competitive grants for small and rural public water systems. These grants would focus on targeting a community’s technical and training needs. The legal authority for this assistance under the “Safe Drinking Water Act” expired over a decade ago. My bill with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), titled the “Grassroots Rural and Small Community Water Systems Assistance Act,” would reauthorize the grants for six years, giving communities the assurance that help is available.
Mississippi has more than 1,000 communities with water systems that could benefit from on-site support. Rural water experts and technicians, known colloquially as circuit riders, are a cost-effective use of limited taxpayer dollars. Not only do they maximize scarce resources by serving multiple areas, but they also offer tailored solutions to diverse local problems.
Readiness Important When Disaster Strikes
A year ago, when deadly tornadoes swept across the state, the Mississippi Rural Water Association (MsRWA) was among the agencies providing emergency response to those left without power or water. Its assistance earned the highest award from the Rural Utilities Service administrator earlier this year.
Disasters, however, are not the only situation in which water experts are deployed for immediate assistance. In just the past few days, MsRWA dispatched a circuit rider to Utica, in rural Hinds County, where a power failure disrupted service and caused a boil water alert.
All Americans deserve clean drinking water and proper sanitation. Although the work is often taken for granted, maintaining and improving water services in local communities has a direct impact on people’s lives. The support offered by my legislation would go a long way in ensuring that these needs are met.
I am encouraged by the Environment and Public Works Committee’s recent, unanimous approval of my bill to provide this assistance. I am hopeful that it will be passed by the full Senate and House of Representatives.

By Senator Roger Wicker

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