WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, introduced an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) to assist rural communities of less than 25,000 residents with funding to maintain, modernize and expand water resource and infrastructure facilities. The amendment was adopted yesterday by Unanimous Consent.
"America's rural communities need the same access to water resources and infrastructure as larger metropolitan areas,” said Inhofe. “Smaller communities are required to meet the same unfunded clean drinking and wastewater mandates from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) but are not provided sufficient access to federal funding. It is Congress’s constitutional obligation to invest in our country's critical infrastructure for all communities. By creating a lower project cost threshold for smaller communities, my amendment will provide financing to rehabilitate crumbling drinking and wastewater treatment facilities, improve storm water management, and enhance waterway infrastructure and storage facilities for rural communities."
CEO of the National Rural Water Association Rob Johnson added, "Many western rural areas have never had adequate water supplies and have a need for a reliable water supply to attract and maintain rural economic and public health. Many rural communities in the west are still hauling water for drinking. The Inhofe amendment will increase federal funding to develop rural water supplies and will result in more solutions to the water problems facing the rural west as well as assisting these families with receiving clean water for the first time."
"As we wrestle with the huge water infrastructure needs facing this country, it's important to also remember the disproportionate struggles that rural Americans face each and every day,” said director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board J.D. Strong. “Nothing is more critical to a vibrant rural economy than clean, safe and sanitary water infrastructure.”
Currently, the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program would only provide loans on projects that cost more than $20 million, which would exclude many rural water resource and infrastructure projects. The Inhofe amendment would ensure small, rural communities have access to WIFIA financing by allowing communities of less than 25,000 residents to apply for WIFIA loans on projects with a cost of five million dollars or more without authorizing any additional government spending.
While serving as ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works committee (EPW), Inhofe co-authored the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program at the Department of Transportation to fund Highway and Transit projects. WIFIA would provide the same inexpensive, U.S. Treasury-backed loans to public jurisdictions, municipalities and utilities to rehabilitate, modernize and expand large water resource and infrastructure projects.