In The People's Blog

This blog is written by Elena Cohen, who’s the District Director on our state Senate team and a Northampton native.

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Writing to share a non-COVID-19 update on our office’s water and sewer infrastructure-related work — one that draws a bright line connection between our local, state and federal governments.

Over Senator Comerford’s first term, we heard from so many of our small, rural towns about the burden of massive water and sewer infrastructure repairs without the tax bases to pay for them. It wasn’t immediately clear what a legislative solution to this issue would look like. As you might imagine, Beacon Hill leadership was more focused on issues like health care, climate change, and transportation – and we knew we couldn’t sit around and wait for small town water and sewer issues to come up on this docket.

We partnered with Representative Natalie Blais and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments to hold a water and sewer forum in November, which brought regional and state-wide experts together with municipal officials. The full report on the water and sewer forum can be read here

While preparing for this forum, we heard from Senator Ed Markey’s office. The Senator’s office had heard about our work on these issues and wanted to understand what we’d learned from our towns because they were working at the same time on federal legislation, called the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which reauthorizes public works projects related to water. 

Senator Comerford and I spoke with Eric Kashdan, a D.C. Legislative Aide for Senator Markey. We spoke about challenges for our towns with wastewater sludge disposal, communities that have no public water supply to service their town centers, aging infrastructure, and the impacts of climate change on water and wastewater systems.

A couple of weeks ago, we heard from Senator Markey’s office that our discussion last fall led them to develop and secure language in the  Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that would create a new federal grant program for wastewater infrastructure! 

Yesterday, we learned that the WRDA legislation has passed out of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) with all of Sen. Markey’s provisions included!  

If this legislation passes as it is currently written, it would fund a $50 million per year discretionary grant program to finance investments in wastewater infrastructure. Federal, state, local, and tribal agencies would be eligible to apply, as well as publicly owned wastewater treatment works. The grant would cover up to 90% of a project’s cost, with a 10% local match. Grant funding would be available for any type of project that is already eligible for a loan under the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, as well as any other wastewater infrastructure project that the EPA determines to be appropriate.

The next step is for the full Senate to vote on this legislation, and then reconcile the bill with the House’s WRDA legislation. 

This experience has been a great lesson in the power of collaboration among local, state, and federal governments. It has shown how small towns, when they raise their voices, can move Washington D.C! This is also an example of an issue that came across our desks without a clear avenue for a solution, and it shows how, through dedicated advocacy, we can create a new such avenue together.

November 1, 2019 Water and Sewer Forum

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