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Protecting America’s Waters:

Clean and Safe Water Needs a Trust Fund
Fact Sheet • June 2009

M ost Americans get their household water from a public utility. But municipal
utilities are struggling to come up with the money needed to meet federal clean
water standards and to maintain and modernize our pipes and water systems.

What’s Wrong with Our Pipes? do not have the funding needed to update and maintain
Some of our water treatment and distribution systems their water systems.
date back to the early 20th century. About 72,000 miles
of our main distribution pipes are more than 80 years Across the country, cash-strapped municipalities have
old.1 In 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineers started selling off their water and sewer systems to mul-
gave the nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure tinational water companies, with hopes that they would
a D-minus rating, the lowest rating of all types of infra- manage the systems more efficiently and finance up-
structure.2 grades that systems need to meet new federal regulations.
Some cities have started selling off this community asset,
As our pipes and treatment systems age, more and more something invested in by generations of local taxpayers,
sewage spills into our streams, rivers, lakes and oceans, for an infusion of money to help their dwindling budgets.
causing serious public health hazards. For example, sew-
age overflows and malfunctioning treatment plants cause
beach closings across the country. The year 2007 saw
20,000 beach closings and swim advisories.3 The Na-
tional Research Council recently warned that we should
expect more water-borne disease outbreaks without “sub-
stantial investments” to improve America’s water pipes
and systems.4

Furthermore, leaks in our aging water pipes waste water

even in parts of the country facing water shortages, like
California. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 1.7
trillion gallons of water are lost from water distribution to
consumer taps — equivalent to one out of every five gal-
lons of treated water.5

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns that

we are $22 billion short per year of the money needed to
keep water safe for human and environmental health.6

How Did We Get to This Point?

For the past 20 years, federal funding for investment in
our pipes and water systems has been steadily declin-
ing. For example, the federal government provided more
than two-thirds of wastewater funding in 1978, but only
3 percent today.7 As a result, many municipalities simply
According to a poll, nine out of 10 Americans believe that
clean and safe water is a national priority that deserves
federal investment.9 Congress agreed by passing the
Clean Water Act in 1972, which states, “It is the national
policy that Federal financial assistance be provided
to construct publicly owned treatment works.”10 And
amendments to the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act added,
“The Federal Government needs to provide assistance
to communities to help the communities meet Federal
drinking water requirements.”11

We need a trust fund for water systems that is based on

the following principles:
• Pollution prevention and drinking water source
protection for human and environmental health;
• Environmentally sound use of our water resourc-
es, including green infrastructure;
• Water conservation by the largest water users,
including agriculture and industry;
• Public participation and accountability for public
• Access to affordable water for low-income house-
• Public funds for public utilities;
• Appropriate user fees for industries that degrade
our water resources.
Does Privatization Work?
Nationwide, communities have found that privatization Congress must take steps to establish a trust fund for
does not increase the efficiency of water and sewer sys- clean and safe water today. To find out more about how
tems. Private investors face many hidden costs, includ- you can get involved with Food & Water Watch’s work
ing high financing costs, taxes and profit requirements, to establish a Clean Water Trust Fund, visit our website,
which public utilities do not face. take action and sign up for more information.

Instead of solving their infrastructure needs, privatization Endnotes

1 “Drinking Water Distribution Systems: Assessing and Reducing
has left communities around the country with increased Risks.” National Research Council of the National Academies,
water rates, service backlogs, downsized workforces and 2006.
environmental violations, while the water companies 2 “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.” American Society of
Civil Engineers. January 2009.
profit. Multinational corporations are accountable to 3 Dorfman, Mark and Kirsten Rosselot Sinclair. “Testing the Waters
their shareholders, not to the taxpayers.8 2008: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches.” National
Resources Defense Council. August 2008.
4 “Drinking Water Distribution Systems: Assessing and Reducing
What Should We Do? Risks.” National Research Council of the National Academies,
After years of declining federal funding, the Obama 2006.
5 Water Resource Adaption Program; Research Areas. U.S.
Administration has provided historic levels of money for Environmental Protection Agency.
drinking and sewer systems in economic stimulus legisla- 6 “The Clean Water and Drinking Water Gap Analysis.” Office of
tion. But this one-time allotment of funding cannot cure Water, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, September 30,
the infrastructure problems caused by decades of neglect. 7 “Clear Waters: Why America Needs a Clean Water Trust Fund.”
The solution is to establish a Clean Water Trust Fund — a Food & Water Watch, October 2007.
dedicated federal funding source that serves as a sus- 8 “Money Down the Drain: How Private Control of Water Wastes
Public Resources.” Food & Water Watch, February 2009.
tained commitment to clean and safe public water. 9 “Clean Water Trust Fund Memo.” Luntz Research Companies/
Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies, February 2004.
Federal funding is an equitable solution. Growing, 10 33 U.S.C. 101 (4).
11 Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996. Section 1 (3).
wealthy communities may be able to afford needed infra-
structure upgrades, but there is a much higher burden
on smaller, rural communities and cities with large
service areas and relatively low income populations. For more information:
Making funding available at the federal level will improve web:
water quality in all of our communities. Poor wastewater email: •
treatment upstream means higher costs for safe drink- phone: (202) 683-2500 (DC) • (415) 293-9900 (CA)
ing water downstream — and we’re all downstream from
someone. Copyright © June 2009 Food & Water Watch