BECKLEY, W.V. (LOOTPRESS) – Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held the first of a two-part hearing series focusing on the unique challenges that small, disadvantaged, and rural communities face in accessing and maintaining drinking water and wastewater services.
Chairman of the committee, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) was joined by Ranking Member Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) to discuss issues with and possible solutions to West Virginia’s water and wastewater systems.
Senators Carper and Capito spoke to a panel of three witnesses, which included Todd Grinstead, Executive Director of the West Virginia Rural Water Association, Wayne Morgan, Executive Director of the West Virginia Infrastructure Job Development Council and Jason Roberts, Executive Director of Region 1 Planning & Development Council.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) also attended the field hearing alongside Carper and Capito. As chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Manchin works closely with those on the EPW committee.
Throughout the hearing, Grinstead, Morgan and Roberts highlighted several areas where West Virginia is struggling in terms of water and wastewater, specifically in its more rural and disadvantaged areas. Topics included dated pipe mapping, a lack of workers and operators, a lack of knowledge and training on how systems work, minor but frequent rate adjustments, a declining population and aging infrastructure.
These concerns are being reflected across the entire state and even the country, Chairman Carper said.
According to the 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, West Virginia received a D grade overall. The country received a C- overall and a D- for wastewater. West Virginia scored slightly better than the national average, receiving a D for drinking water and wastewater.
The report states that some drinking waster systems in West Virginia are losing more than half of their treated water throughout the distribution systems, leading to infrastructure replacements and technology improvements. Because of the state’s rough and rugged topography, leaks are often hard to detect. Current cumulative funding needs for drink water infrastructure in the state are approximately $302 million.
In addition to West Virginia’s water problem, as of 2020, considerable portions of the state’s wastewater systems have deteriorated. This includes 59 combined sewer systems requiring $1.2 billion to address state and federal requirements.
Ranking Member Capito and Chairman Carper believe the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021 can help fix these issues.
The bill, which was a project of the EPW Committee, passed in the Senate 89-2 and is currently waiting to be passed in the House.
If passed, the Act will provide $35 billion in funding for drinking water and wastewater development projects. It will also allow for upgrades to aging water pipelines and water infrastructure, which are prone to leaks, burst pipes and drinking water pollution.
State, county and municipal governments will have the opportunity to apply for a portion of this funding. Ranking Member Capito says West Virginia could receive a significant amount of money.
Wayne says this money is desperately needed as more than 400 million applications dealing with water and wastewater are currently pending in the state’s system with no funding to complete them.
Ranking Member Capito says today’s hearing gives the committee the opportunity to see and hear firsthand how communities are addressing challenges with water and wastewater.
“I especially appreciate our expert West Virginia witnesses and their testimonies speaking to the needed investments in our water infrastructure and water workforce,” she added. “I’m hopeful that today’s hearing underscores the fact that the rural infrastructure needs of today—needs can be addressed with the bipartisan infrastructure package—cannot and should not be delayed.”
“It’s great to be back in my hometown of Beckley to discuss something so essential—access to safe, reliable water infrastructure,” Chairman Carper said. “As we heard from Senators Capito and Manchin, as well as our excellent panel of witnesses, many small and rural communities face real challenges when it comes to keeping their water systems fully functional in the 21st Century. Earlier this year, Senator Capito and I wasted no time getting to work on drinking and wastewater legislation. Our bill became the foundation of the bipartisan infrastructure deal that we led passage of in the Senate. I’m confident we will soon get this bill signed into law and deliver much-needed infrastructure investments in West Virginia, Delaware, and communities across our country.”
The second field hearing will take place tomorrow in Dover, Delaware.