Many people don't associate water and sewer systems with job creation. In fact, most Americans might not think about their water and sewer systems much beyond paying utility bills.
But one consistent message I've heard at many of the 200 roundtable discussions I've conducted across our state is that affordable water and sewer rates are critical to attracting and retaining employers - particularly those in the manufacturing industry that depend on water for their production processes. A modern, affordable water infrastructure is critical to preserving jobs, building strong communities, and keeping Americans safe.
This is a jobs issue, which is why I am re-introducing the Clean Water Affordability Act - bipartisan legislation I first introduced in 2008 with then-Sen. George V. Voinovich.
All Ohioans deserve access to clean water, but across Ohio communities are struggling to afford the necessary upgrades to improve their sewer systems.
In parts of the state with combined sewer systems, heavy rains or melting snow cause combined systems to overflow, meaning untreated wastewater and storm water are dumped straight into our rivers, creeks, and lakes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates 850 billion gallons of untreated wastewater and storm water from combined sewers are released into our communities.
It poses a risk to the public health and environment - and undermines the competitiveness of our businesses.
The cost of addressing combined sewers in Ohio alone is more than $7 billion over the next 20 years, according to the EPA. In northeast Ohio, the fix is estimated at more than $1 billion, and in Cincinnati it is at least $2 billion. There are more than 81 Ohio communities that require water infrastructure improvements to fix outdated combined sewer systems.
These communities - and their local ratepayers - shouldn't have to go after the fixes alone.
That's why the Clean Water Affordability Act is important - it will protect local ratepayers, streamline permitting, lead to cleaner water and promote economic development.
This bill would help communities with combined sewer systems develop an infrastructure plan that works best for the local community and protects our environment. It would also invest $1.8 billion to be distributed over the next five years through a grant program for financially distressed communities to invest in sewer repair.
In the remaining years of the grant program, funds would be allocated to states based upon their sewer needs - with priority given to financially-distressed communities.
A sound wastewater infrastructure with fair rates isn't just a health and safety issue - it is an economic development imperative. This is a bill that will achieve both and ensure the well-being and economic success of our communities.