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Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, Washington, D.C.

Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman,
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
to the
Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies
Washington, D.C.

March 19, 2002

Thank you for that introduction. It’s nice to be with you again.

Before I begin, I want to say thank you – thank you for being such a strong and reliable partner of the EPA in addressing the issues resulting from the events of September 11th. You have shown just how productive partnerships based on shared goals can be, and I’m grateful for your leadership and your commitment.

I want to especially thank Diane VanDe Hei for all the work she has done to support our efforts. Because Diane has so willingly lent us her expertise and hard work, we have made excellent progress in promoting the security of our water infrastructure system in America. Thank you, Diane.

Since we met a year ago, I’ve learned a great deal more about the various environmental issues confronting the country. I’ve traveled to more than 25 states, delivered hundreds of speeches, and met with at least as many groups. As a result, I have come to believe even more strongly than I did that water quality and quantity issues will pose the greatest environmental challenge of the 21st century. There’s no doubt AMWA will have key roles to play in making sure we meet that challenge successfully.

As you know, America’s drinking water infrastructure is enormous. More than 168,000 water systems supply the vast majority of America’s drinking water. This vast network delivers clean, safe drinking water to millions. You are the people who put the work in waterworks.

You are each focused on Safe Drinking Water Act requirements, but I’d like to talk today about the Clean Water Act and how it can support your goal of clean, safe drinking water. It’s been almost 30 years since passage of the landmark Clean Water Act, memorializing in statute the responsibility each of us has to be good stewards of the nation’s waters.

We really do have plenty to celebrate. Our waterways are cleaner. Lakes and rivers where garbage once floated now have kayakers and anglers floating along. Beaches once littered by washed-up waste are now dotted by sand castles and colorful umbrellas. We’ve come a long way, but we’re not quite ready to declare victory and call it a day.

The challenges we face in 2002 are not as clearly defined as those we faced in 1972. We have met many of the problems resulting from the direct discharge of pollutants into America’s waterways. In fact, today the major contributor to water pollution nationwide is nonpoint source pollution. That is why we advocate not simply looking at water quality at the end of a particular pipe but looking at practices in entire watersheds and how they affect the quality of all the water in that watershed.

Our focus on watersheds will help transform the way Americans think about how they can make a difference for cleaner water. As people learn more about the ways even small, individual actions can add up to big environmental consequences, they will become an active partner in our effort to leave America’s waters cleaner for generations to come. This focus on watersheds can help protect the sources of drinking water on which you depend.

This watershed focus is why the President’s proposed budget for the coming year includes funding for a watershed initiative that will build partnerships for cleaner water in 20 of America’s most important watersheds. Our proposal, modeled on the “Clean Charles 2005 Initiative” up in the Boston area, will help us craft solutions for each watershed based on its unique needs and challenges.

I should also mention that my commitment to a watershed approach based on partnerships is informing my decisions on TMDLs. You may recall that I delayed the July 2000 rule by 18 months and asked the Court to stay the several challenges brought against that rule by the environmental community, agricultural groups, industry and municipal sewerage agencies. Since then we have had four large public meetings around the country which have included a wider range of interests and we are in the process of developing a proposal for issuance in late June.

In the meantime we are working with States and others to implement the TMDL program in ways that build on existing watershed efforts and can provide a foundation for future watershed partnerships. Our experience with the TMDLs developed in Long Island Sound and Tampa Bay, two of our national estuaries, demonstrates that active collaboration among stakeholders can lead to effective and widely accepted TMDLs.

The proposed rule and the final rule that will publish in 2003 should build on and learn from these successes -- providing flexibility to incorporate innovative approaches while bringing focus to the specific problems that impair our nation's waters. I encourage you to participate actively in TMDL development which affects your drinking water sources.

In addition to our innovative targeted watershed proposal, this Administration also recognizes the importance of helping state and local governments improve both their drinking and wastewater infrastructure. This is an enormous challenge across the nation with an enormous price tag attached.

No matter which estimate you use – the EPA Needs Surveys or the various gap report estimates – it’s clear we all have our work cut out for us. We must direct resources into water infrastructure and at the same time reduce the costs to ensure efficient and productive use of these resources.

I am pleased that the President’s budget proposal for the state drinking water and clean water revolving funds is the largest combined request in history – $2.1 billion. And that’s on top of the $1 billion requested for other EPA water quality programs.

History has shown the SRFs to be the most effective tool we have to support your work. To date, the federal government has provided more than $19.7 billion in capitalization funding to states for the Clean Water SRFs and $3.6 billion for the Drinking Water SRFs. Because of the revolving nature of these funds, the money has provided about 4 times the purchasing power compared to direct grants. More important, it allows you to help choose where the money is needed most.

But money from Washington is not enough. We must harness the power of the public and private sectors, both for financing and the development of new technologies and innovations that will lower future costs and lead to more efficient and sustainable systems. And we must use a holistic approach – which should certainly include looking at entire watersheds – in order to better manage our water use through efficient strategies, conservation and reuse, and better coordination with local planning.

We look forward to working with you – and with the Congress and local governments – to turn these principles into actions that will allow us to continue the progress we have made on improving water infrastructure.

Of course, just as we are concerned about protecting our systems from the ravages of time, so too are we concerned about protecting them from the threats of terrorism. Since September 11th, we have also moved quickly to help secure America’s drinking and waste water systems against disruptions from terrorist attacks. And you have been right there alongside us.

Working with Sandia Labs, we greatly accelerated work that was already underway to develop vulnerability assessment tools and training for water utilities, finishing the work months ahead of schedule. And you’re working on developing a secure information system to enable us to deliver threat and other security information on a timely basis.

I’m pleased to announce today our plans to use the nearly $90 million already appropriated by Congress to support water security efforts. First, for the largest drinking water systems, those serving over 100,000 people, EPA will issue grants to support completion of vulnerability assessments and other security planning. Collectively, these large systems provide service to nearly half of the American people. Funds will also be directed to further develop and disseminate tools to support security efforts. And, we’ll also provide training and technical assistance for small and medium drinking water and waste water systems.
We have also been working to make sure we know exactly what we are up against. Our Water Protection Task Force has been working with CDC and the Department of Defense to assess the current state of knowledge regarding both chemical and biological threats to water systems – from the source to the tap. This work is critically important to protecting our water supplies and systems effectively and intelligently.

In addition to these major accomplishments, we have won some other important victories for clean water over the past year. We issued a rule to protect consumers served by small water systems from microbial pathogens like cryptosporidium. We affirmed the Tulloch Wetland Rule which will ensure that these important ecosystems will be better protected from damage from nearby drainage or excavation work. And we are moving forward with a final cleanup plan that will rid the Hudson River of more than 150,000 pounds of PCBs, greatly reducing a health threat to both aquatic and human life.

I believe the Bush Administration has built a strong record in its first year. We recognize the importance of working with you and your counterparts across the nation to meet America’s water challenges. And while we may take some time to look back over all that has been accomplished over the past 30 years, I know that most of our focus will be on the work ahead.

We have the opportunity to build on the progress we have made and leave America’s water purer than we found it. That is our challenge and our obligation as stewards of America’s waters. I look forward to working with you to meet it.

Thank you.