Wicker Champions Rural Water Bill
Grants for Technical Assistance and Training Are Important to Mississippi Communities
Addressing local water needs is a major responsibility for small and rural communities. In fact, most of America’s drinking water and wastewater supplies serve areas with less than 10,000 residents. These services are important to public health and quality of life – not to mention a community’s long-term economic development.
Small Water Systems Need Support
A safe and reliable water supply depends on the work of local utilities, which are tasked with meeting the standards and regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In small and rural communities, limited access to experts and technology can make complying with federal rules extremely difficult. Unlike large cities, areas with small water systems often struggle to afford costly, EPA-mandated upgrades. Their revenues mostly come from the few hundred households they serve. Fines from noncompliance only make the problem worse.
In turn, many municipalities rely on nonprofit organizations like state rural water associations for help. The technical assistance and training that these organizations can facilitate 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 be focused on technical and training objectives that target a community’s specific needs. The provision for competitive grants in the “Safe Drinking Water Act” expired in 2004. 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 more certainty that help is available.
Mississippi has more than 1,000 communities with water systems that could benefit from on-site technical and training support. Rural water experts and technicians, known as circuit riders, are an efficient and cost-effective use of taxpayer dollars. Not only do they maximize scarce resources by serving multiple areas but they also offer local-level solutions to diverse problems.
Readiness Important When Disaster Strikes
A year ago, we witnessed the horrific devastation of deadly tornadoes across the state. Mississippians lost loved ones and homes as severe storms swept through communities, leaving thousands of people without power and water.
The Mississippi Rural Water Association (MsRWA) was among the emergency response teams that acted quickly to help. 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, where a power failure disrupted service and caused a boil water alert.
Maintaining and improving water services in small and rural communities has a powerful impact on people’s lives. All Americans deserve clean drinking water and proper sanitation. More opportunities for technical assistance and training can go a long way in ensuring that these needs are met.
I am encouraged by the Environment and Public Works Committee’s unanimous approval of my bill to provide this assistance. I am hopeful that it will be passed by the full Senate without delay.