Residents of Flint, Michigan got a glimmer of hope this week. Congress finally reached a bipartisan agreement on a massive waterways bill that would authorize $170 million in aid for the struggling municipality, and as much as $220 million for communities all around the country facing drinking water emergencies.
"It addresses public health by tackling lead contamination and helping communities, like Flint, provide safe drinking water, and encouraging cost-saving innovative drinking water technologies," said Republican leaders from the House Transportation and Infrastructure, Senate Environment and Public Works, House Natural Resources and House Energy and Commerce committees.
Flint residents have been suffering from lead contaminated drinking water since April of 2014, when it was first discovered that the pipes that supplied water were corroded, leading to lead-filled water. Thousands of households still rely on bottled water today. Just this past month, a District Court judge ordered that unless the city could verify that each of its 34,000 households had working faucet filters, then it must deliver bottled water to each of them. This bill could ease their concerns.
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The wide-ranging bill, the 2016 Water Resources Development Act, not only encompasses aid to Flint and to aged drinking water infrastructure in the United States, but also includes help to the drought-stricken parts of California, and authorizes dozens of projects around the country designed to bolster ports and waterways with flood and storm protection. These structural repairs will also help keep the commercial movement of goods flowing, officials said.
Congress could end up voting on the bill later this week, but citizens struggling with contaminated drinking water shouldn't expect aid anytime soon. Congress still needs to debate on how the federal government will appropriate the much-needed and overdue $170 million in aid to the city of Flint in a continuing resolution.
Some Democratic members of Congress expressed concern over last minute changes Republican lawmakers made to the bill. Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, of California, was particularly dismayed by language used to address California's ongoing drought, which mentioned diverting water from elsewhere in California to its drought-stricken central parts. She believes this would harm fisheries and weaken the Endangered Species Act, and vowed to "use every tool in her disposal" to strike that element of the bill.
Representative Dan Kildee of Michigan, however, urged Congressional lawmakers to not forget the larger purpose of the bill. "Democrats and Republicans have already made a commitment to help the people of Flint by passing legislation in both the House and Senate. Lawmakers now must finish those promises and work to deliver real aid to families before the end of the year," he said.
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