July 22, 2019

Harris, Kildee, Lawrence Announce Comprehensive Legislation to Address Nation’s Water Crisis

The Water Justice Act will invest $250 billion in water safety, affordability, and sustainability 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Monday announced the Water Justice Act, landmark legislation to ensure that the nation’s water supply is safe, affordable, and sustainable. To address the ongoing drinking water crisis in the country, the comprehensive legislation would immediately invest in communities and schools to test for and remove contaminants in water, including replacing toxic lead service lines. Further, the bill would provide assistance for families struggling with the cost of rising water bills and support a broad range of sustainable water infrastructure projects.

Rep. Dan Kildee (MI-5), who represents Flint, and Rep. Brenda Lawrence (MI-14) will introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

“Every American has the right to clean water, period,” said Sen. Harris. “We must take seriously the existential threat represented by future water shortages and acknowledge that communities across the country—particularly communities of color—already lack access to safe and affordable water. Achieving true justice in our nation will require us to recognize the precious nature of water and take bold action to invest in long-term, sustainable solutions to ensure it is accessible for all.”

“My hometown of Flint knows all too well the consequences of failing to invest in our drinking water systems. No family should ever have to worry if the water coming out of their taps is safe, and unfortunately that is a reality for many communities across the country. I’m proud to partner with Senator Harris to introduce this comprehensive bill that addresses the safety and sustainability of water. With smart investments, we can secure clean drinking water for all,” said Rep. Kildee.

“Thank you Senator Harris for your leadership on this critical issue,” said Rep. Lawrence. “Too many communities across the country lack access to safe, clean, and affordable drinking water. This bill reaffirms that water is a human right and delivers a comprehensive solution to achieve justice for millions of families.”

According to a recent survey of state water managers, at least 40 states are anticipating water shortages by 2024. Right now, the water supplied to Americans is often neither safe nor affordable. In recent years, of those schools that conducted tests for contamination, 37 percent—serving an estimated 13 million students—tested positive for lead in their drinking water and 30 percent of U.S. community water systems reported having some lead-containing service lines in their system. Since 2010, household water rates have increased by approximately 41 percent, with as many as 15 percent of households facing water affordability challenges.

The Water Justice Act, which would invest $250 billion in critical upgrades to the nation’s water infrastructure, consists of three main planks: Safe Water, Affordable Water, and Sustainable Water.

  • Safe Water
    • Direct $50 billion in emergency funds toward contaminated communities and schools to test for contaminants in water and remediate or replace toxic drinking water infrastructure.
    • Invest nearly $170 billion in Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act programs.


  • Affordable Water
    • Establish a $10 billion program to offset the cost of individual households’ water bills in low-income communities and households that are “environmentally at-risk.”
    • “Environmentally at-risk” households would be determined using such factors as proximity to an environmentally hazardous site or a pollution hotspot.


  • Sustainable Water
    • Invest $20 billion in a diverse range of sustainable water supply, recycling, and conservation programs. For example, the legislation would:
      • Direct the EPA administrator to determine a national primary drinking water regulation for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
      • Expand the federal government’s only water reuse and recycling program.
      • Increase mandatory spending for water infrastructure programs.
      • Establish a new water efficiency and conservation block grant program
      • Reauthorize the Rural Water Supply Program.

Supporters of the Water Justice Act include Natural Resources Defense Council, League of Conservation Voters, Earthjustice, Human Rights Watch, and the Water Equity and Climate Resilience Caucus, co-chaired by PolicyLink and the Gulf Coast Center on Law and Policy, which represents 84 members nationwide.

For further background on the legislation, click here.

For full bill text, click here.