Clean Water Advocacy - News Releases - January 30, 1999

Contact: John Millett, 202/833-4651, AMSA

Nationwide Survey Shows Strong Support For Wastewater Funding

Americans, on the whole, feel more federal funds for clean water infrastructure would be money well spent.

That's the message of a recent survey sponsored by the Rebuild America Coalition. The 1999 Rebuild America Infrastructure Survey -- released January 27 at the National Press Club -- clearly shows overwhelming support for federal spending on a wide array of infrastructure including “transportation, sanitation and water quality.” The Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies (AMSA) is a member of The Rebuild America Coalition, an organization of 60 public and private groups that are focusing attention at the federal, state and local levels of government on strengthening the nation's infrastructure.

Of those polled, 66 percent considered infrastructure spending a “strong investment in America.”

This survey comes at a critical time for AMSA -- an organization of over 210 wastewater treatment agencies across the country that serve the majority of the United States' sewered population and collectively treat and reclaim over 18 billion gallons of wastewater every day.

The survey supports what AMSA has held all along: that more federal support is necessary to maintain the country's existing wastewater infrastructure and at the same time address the challenges posed by wet weather in the form of agricultural runoff, combined and sanitary sewer overflows (CSOs and SSOs) and stormwater. At current federal funding levels, many municipalities are facing an impossible choice. They must either maintain, upgrade or replace their existing treatment works -- many of them built with federal dollars decades ago -- or direct scarce local dollars to implement costly controls on CSOs, SSOs, and stormwater to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards. With current funding levels, many communities simply cannot do both. And with more federal funding to support nonpoint source pollution controls, the water quality benefits would be enormous.

So, for the 106th Congress, AMSA has placed a high priority on local communities' clean water infrastructure needs by urging lawmakers to step up federal funding for water quality challenges associated with wet weather including urban and agricultural runoff.

The survey's findings fit in perfectly with the national economic picture and broader public sentiment. With the country enjoying the most prosperous economic period in recent history and last year's federal budget surplus of $70 billion with more projected for next year and beyond, many Americans feel the government ought to focus on shoring up the long-term well being of the country. This means ensuring a robust Social Security system to last well into the next century, to be sure. But, as the survey indicates, in most Americans' minds it also means a time to invest in the infrastructure we depend on for our quality of life -- roads, bridges and wastewater treatment plants that protect the environment and human health. Over 90 percent of those polled felt that high-quality infrastructure is at least “somewhat important” to their quality of life, with 70 percent saying quality infrastructure is “very important.”

The coalition's survey demonstrates the public's recognition that there's still a long way to go to reach the level of water quality America deserves. Only 13 percent felt that, compared to five years ago, their tap water quality had improved. Similarly, only 26 percent recognized that the water quality of local rivers, lakes and coastal areas had improved, with 30 percent saying the quality had actually deteriorated.

But in light of these figures, the public also understands the clear connection between federal dollars and cleaner water. The survey indicates that the public would not mind paying one percent more per year in taxes if it meant that fish would return to local waterways and that they would be guaranteed a safe and efficient sewage and water treatment system. While 62 percent would pay more taxes for fish to return, 74 percent supported a marginally higher tax for the guarantee of safe, efficient water infrastructure.

Currently, local governments shoulder 90 percent of the funding burden for the nation's clean water programs. When asked if this situation should continue, reaction was mixed, with 48 percent calling for the federal government to take on more of a role and 44 percent saying that states and communities should be almost entirely responsible for the nation's clean water programs. The 48 to 44 split may suggest that the public would support more federal money to balance the current ratio of local dollars to federal dollars spent to safeguard water quality.