Spend More, Spend Smarter on Clean Water Groups Urge Senate;
Water Treatment Plants Just Part of Clean Water Solution

To: National Desk, Environmental Reporter
Contact: Nancy Stoner of NRDC, 202-289-2394;
Betsy Otto of American Rivers, 202-347-7550;
Paul Schwartz of Clean Water Action,
202-895-0420, ext. 105;
Erik Olson of NRDC, 202-289-2387

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2002 /U.S. Newswire/ -- As the Senate prepares to
take up the issue of lagging federal clean water spending, three
conservation organizations urged Congress not just to spend more on
water treatment plants, but also to increase its investment in
efforts to reduce pollution by protecting natural areas along water
bodies nationwide.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold
hearings today and Thursday on the Water Investment Act of 2002,
introduced last week by Sens. Graham (D-Fla.), Crapo (R-Idaho),
Jeffords (I-Vt.), and Smith (R-N.H.). This bill intends to
dramatically increase federal Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking
Water Act funding. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency, federal spending in recent years has been less than 15
percent of the $23 billion needed annually to replace aging water
treatment infrastructure.

"Thirty years of effort towards cleaner water has taught us
that more and better treatment plants are only part of the
solution," said Nancy Stoner, director of the Clean Water Project
at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "To continue to make
progress towards to cleaner water, we need to reduce the amount of
polluted runoff entering rivers and streams from cities, suburbs,
and farms."

Under the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, the
federal government gives money to states for "State Revolving
Funds," (SRFs) from which local governments can take out loans for
wastewater and drinking water treatment projects. The conservation
groups applauded the effort to increase investment in these SRFs,
but urged the Senators to reform the SRFs to ensure that local
governments will use more of this money to plant stream buffers,
protect wetlands, acquire land, and implement other natural
stormwater treatment strategies in addition to upgrading
traditional treatment plants.

"The Water Investment Act is a good start, but the bill still
needs some work," said Betsy Otto, director of the Community Rivers
program at American Rivers. "Congress should pass some reforms to
the revolving loan funds to ensure that states lend the money for
projects that maximize human health and environmental benefits."

The groups called for several key reforms to the SRF funding
programs, including:

Ensure that a larger percentage of Clean Water SRF funds are
used for natural techniques to address non-point pollution. --
Polluted runoff from streets, yards, and fields is largest source
of water pollution in American today. Using SRF funds for stream
buffers, wetlands protection, land conservation, and other habitat
improvements along water bodies will do a better job of reducing
this pollution than traditional "pipe and concrete" projects.

Ensure that SRF funds are not used to subsidize new sprawl
development. -- SRF money should be used to repair and improve
existing wastewater and drinking water systems, not subsidize the
construction of new systems.

Ensure that the money goes to the highest priority projects. --
Senators should strengthen provisions that require states to
increase public input as they develop priority lists for projects,
and to ensure that SRF funds are used for those projects.

Ensure that borrowers use the money well. -- Senators should
include language to ensure that SRF dollars are loaned to utilities
that are making a good faith effort to meet their Clean Water Act
and Safe Drinking Water Act obligations.

"This bill holds out the promise to fund the solution to many
needed public health and environmental problems, said Paul
Schwartz, Clean Water Actions' national campaigns director.
"However, without better accountability and public participation
processes, many critical drinking water needs will not be
addressed, and many tax dollars will be wasted."



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