Meadville Tribune

December 14, 2007

Column: Federal legislation can help solve state’s water woes

By Sen. James M. Inhofe

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As Oklahoma continues to develop solutions to address its ever increasing demand for quality water supplies, I am convinced that there are practical and economical solutions to these issues.

As former chairman and now ranking Republican member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I have worked to advance legislation to provide state and localities the resources they require to address their water needs.

An example is the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, enacted Nov. 8. This critically important bill not only authorizes and modifies critical projects for waterways navigation, reduction of hurricane, storm and flood damage, and environmental restoration nationwide, it has a real and important impact here in Oklahoma. Communities across the state can benefit from authorizations such as those improving our lakes and waterways, for sewer improvements and for water-related infrastructure.

In Oklahoma alone, the new law will result in savings of more than $10 million for the city of Edmond and $1.5 million for the communities surrounding the Waurika Conservancy District by clarifying disputes with the Corps of Engineers over water use.

It will also continue projects at the Red River, which will enhance drinking water supply and agricultural irrigation in southwestern Oklahoma.

In addition to the water development act, Congress should have reauthorized the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Act Revolving Loan Funds legislation I co-authored last year. It contained several provisions aimed at promoting water efficiency and new approaches to addressing supply shortages.

The clean water bill would have made water conservation and efficiency measures explicitly eligible for the loan programs. Further, it created both a research and demonstration program to look into ways to conserve and reuse water and promote new water efficiency technologies. It also provided grants to research technologies to assist treatment works and water systems in conserving and more efficiently using water.

I am hopeful that a bipartisan group of my colleagues and I will soon reintroduce this legislation and that it will be promptly be considered by the full Senate.

We face tragic consequences by ignoring or shortchanging our nation’s water needs, and investments in water infrastructure prior to disasters can even save us money.

An example of this occurred during this past summer’s flooding in the Oklahoma-Texas-Arkansas region. The Corps of Engineers levees, channels and reservoirs prevented an estimated over $5 billion in further damages.

The clean water provisions have proven to be an innovative tool that extends the life of every federal dollar and state match dollar. Since the act’s inception, the federal government has provided $24 billion to the program. In 2006, over $60 billion was available in loans to states and localities.

The safe drinking provision has also proven equally successful.

We must be willing to responsibly invest sufficient funds to properly develop, maintain, repair and replace America’s critical water supply infrastructure. I intend to continue to work to see that our state and local governments have the tools they require to meet their ever increasing needs.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., has served in the U.S. Senate since 1994. He is also a former congressman and mayor of Tulsa.