Federal Policy: Clean Water

Decisions about how to invest in our water infrastructure shape where and how we grow our communities. These decisions impact the quantity and quality of our water resources, which in turn impacts the health and economic vitality of our communities. Building new sewer and water treatment plants in outlying areas makes new development possible, but often comes at the expense of existing urban areas. As residents move away to newer developments, older cities have fewer resources to maintain aging and failing infrastructure, making them less attractive locations for new private investment.

Stormwater runoff is now the fastest growing source of pollution in the United States. Impervious surfaces like parking lots, roads and roofs increase this pollution, and poor site selection and site design is a major contributing factor to rising stormwater runoff rates and as less water is able to return to underground aquifers, long-term water shortages are becoming a problem.

A proposed plan in Seattle, WA would bump out curbs and increase green space in planter strips, allowing storm water to soak back into the earth and preventing sewage backups in the city during storms.

Poorly-sited development can result in ground water pollution from leaking septic tanks and hazardous wastes from households and businesses. Degraded and neglected urban rivers and waterfronts depress economic growth and quality of life.

While many decisions that impact water quality, water infrastructure and flooding or drought are made locally, Congress and the federal government play a significant role, as well. For example, Congress appropriated $3.5 billion in 2010 for State and Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund (SRF) programs to help communities collect water, treat it, and deliver clean water to our homes and businesses.

Smart Growth America’s Federal Policy Priorities for clean water

  • Urge the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revise State Review Framework (SRF) guidelines and ensure that states prioritize the use of federal funds to fix and maintain existing infrastructure serving existing communities, as recommended by the EPA’s 2010 guidance on state revolving loan funds.
  • Assist the EPA to develop and implement its new water infrastructure sustainability policy, with the goal of making sure the EPA is providing necessary technical assistance and that states have greater flexibility to use federal funds for long-term and comprehensive water resource planning purposes.
  • Ensure the EPA adopts a strong post-construction stormwater rule that protects our water resources through green building practices without discouraging the redevelopment of existing communities.
  • Ensure funding for the Urban Waters Initiative a cross-agency partnership to facilitate local efforts to restore and revitalize rivers and streams in cities and towns.
  • Reauthorize the Clean Water and Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund programs with provisions requiring that communities prioritize the repair and replacement of systems, undertake more vigorous environmental review, emphasize green infrastructure approaches and adequately evaluate long-term financial sustainability of projects.
  • Pass legislation protecting the Chesapeake Bay and other major American water resources and assure that such legislation contains provisions that address the impact of development patterns on water quality.
  • Support introduction of green infrastructure legislation that funds technical and capital assistance for the greening of existing communities and highways as a means of promoting redevelopment, community revitalization and environmental protection.
  • Support establishment of an infrastructure funding bank with provisions to prioritize the financing of infrastructure improvements in existing communities.