On the heels of an announcement by Portsmouth Wastewater Director Rick Duncan that he is expecting up to $10 million in grants and loans for several projects in the city, several federal lawmakers are asking the federal government to fund a program to deal with the same issue.
Sens. George V. Voinovich (R-OH) and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) have introduced legislation to authorize $1.8 billion in federal grants to help modernize antiquated sewer systems.
Sherrod Brown (D-OH) was also a co-sponsor on the bill.
In a joint news release Voinovich and Lautenberg said, “These sewers frequently overflow directly into rivers, lakes, streams and coastal waters during wet weather events, threatening water quality and public health and undermining local economies.”
In February Portsmouth was listed as one of 86 Ohio communities that would benefit from legislation dealing with renovations to outdated sewer systems, announced at that time by Voinovich and Brown.
The Clean Water Affordability Act of 2009 would help those listed communities struggling to afford costly, but necessary, renovations to sewer systems.
The Clean Water Affordability Act authorizes $1.8 billion over five years for a grant program to help financially distressed communities update their aging infrastructure. The program would provide a 75-25 cost share for municipalities to use for planning, design, and construction of treatment works to control combined and sanitary sewer overflows.
“Our legislation holds the federal government responsible for paying its fair share for the nation’s pressing water and wastewater infrastructure needs,” Voinovich said Thursday. “We cannot expect cities to spend millions of dollars for water infrastructure upgrades without help from the federal government. We have a ticking time bomb ready to blow up if we don’t act now.”
One of the reasons Portsmouth is on the list is the repeated flooding of the Grandview Avenue area over the years, most recently in June of 2008. In that area a combined sewer overflow system is utilized mixing wastewater and sewage, a system that, since 1997 has repeatedly flooded homes bringing raw sewage into basements and main floors of residences.
“Quality water and sewer infrastructure is critical to public health and economic development,” Brown said. “We need to help local communities make the necessary upgrades to protect the public and bring new jobs and economic activity.”
The Water Quality Investment Act would authorize a $1.8 billion, five-year federal grant program in the Clean Water Act. The program would provide funds directly to local governments in the first two years of the program. Over the next three years, funding would be allocated to states, based on need to address problems of overflowing sewer systems. States will then distribute the funding to local governments.
Those introducing the legislation said separate sewer systems are not immune from those problems facing combined systems, and often overflow as well, sending untreated sewage into the waterways, streets, parks, and homes of communities in every state.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that between three billion and 10 billion gallons of untreated waste are spilled from these systems each year.
FRANK LEWIS may be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232.