Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, announced Tuesday that she has introduced the Water System Resiliency and Sustainability Act of 2011 (House Resolution 2738), legislation to establish a new Environmental Protection Agency competitive grant program to help drinking water, wastewater and stormwater utilities prepare for the impacts of climate-related risks on their operations.

Capps was joined by 11 of her colleagues in the House of Representatives in introducing the measure. A companion bill is expected to be introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., this fall.

“As we suffer through severe droughts, more intense rainfall and flooding, and sea level rise along the coast, the nation’s drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure is coming under increasing levels of stress,” Capps said. “In the face of these costly challenges, and to help our nation’s water agencies continue delivering safe and uninterrupted water services to the communities that rely upon them, we must begin planning now. That’s why I’ve introduced the Water System Resiliency and Sustainability Act, which will help jump-start this critical local planning and create new jobs updating water infrastructure to meet the significant challenges posed by climate change.”

Under the proposal, each year the EPA would request adaptation projects from drinking water, wastewater and stormwater utilities, and award matching funds to those projects that will help utilities address the most significant climate-related risks and benefit the largest numbers of water users.

Utilities may use the federal matching funds on projects that build resiliency to changing hydrological conditions, including through water conservation and efficiency measures, enhancing water management through source water protection and green infrastructure, or facilitating the use of advanced technologies — such as water reuse and recycling — to increase available water supplies. Additionally, utilities could use funds to jump-start local-level analyses to determine what future water resource challenges they will face.

“Investing in water infrastructure is one of the surest ways to increase jobs in communities across the country,” Capps said. “But just as our economy needs an infusion of new jobs, the impacts of climate change are happening now and will continue for decades to come. The Water System Resiliency and Sustainability Act is a win-win-win for our economy, our health and our environment.”

Capps worked closely with the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, environmental organizations and other key stakeholders to develop the legislation.

A recent report commissioned by these water utility organizations estimated that U.S. drinking water and wastewater systems will need nearly $1 trillion in additional investment through 2050 to overcome the impacts of global climate change on their systems.

“In the decades ahead, the nation’s water and wastewater systems are expected to face a series of water quality and quantity challenges brought on by severe drought, melting snowpack, more frequent heavy precipitation events and rising sea levels,” said Diane VanDe Hei, executive director of AMWA. “The Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Act will help communities upgrade their infrastructure to prepare for these events while creating thousands of jobs across the country. AMWA and its members thank Congresswoman Capps for introducing this important legislation and look forward to continuing to work with her to ensure access to clean and safe water for all Americans.”

“NACWA’s wastewater and stormwater member agencies sincerely appreciate Congresswoman Capps’ leadership in spearheading this forward-looking legislation to help communities deal with the complexity of weather-related issues they are certain to face in the coming decades,” said Ken Kirk, executive director of NACWA. “This year with the flooding in the Midwest we have already seen the devastating consequences to our community infrastructure when extreme weather events occur. Our communities need to prepare for a different weather-related future and this legislation sends the vital message that the federal government must act as a full partner with states and municipalities.”

— Ashley Schapitl is press secretary for Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara.