We’re Doing Our Job But Congress Must Act Too

LIUNA members have been proud to be on the frontlines addressing the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Fixing pipes and distributing safe water is a no-brainer for us. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the work we want to do each and every day.

But the lead contamination scandal in Flint coming to light is only the tip of the iceberg. Under-investing in critical infrastructure is costing lives across the nation, strangling business and commerce and forfeiting the creation of millions of good, family-supporting jobs.

LIUNA was in the forefront last year of fighting for and winning a full-investment Highway Bill that is protecting lives by making our roads and bridges safer, helping business move goods and services, and supporting tens of thousands of construction jobs. Now it’s time to lead the fight to fully invest in the water infrastructure that working people and our economy rely upon every day.

The social justice questions raised by Flint will likely haunt the entire nation for years. But one thing is clear: the way to honor Flint’s children and our nation is to take bold and historic steps to fix this problem.

As many as 10 million homes receive water through lead pipes, according to a recent New York Times report. Across the nation, many pipes are more than 100 years old, posing drinking water risks.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the monetary cost of our nation’s neglect of water resources is now $1.7 trillion – and rising. When it comes to the water we drink or the waterways we rely on for transportation or energy, the Civil Engineers gives the United States a “D” grade.

America can do better than a D. This year, Congress is likely to consider a reauthorization of what’s known as the Water Resources Reform and Development Act. This law can be used to target the crisis in Flint and other cities, but is primarily intended to care for the nation’s levees, dams, ports and harbors – all critically important to the safety and competitiveness of our country. We must urge Congress not only to maximize investment through the act, but also warn them against ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul.’ For the sake of our children in every community, the drinking water crisis must receive additional, significant and dedicated resources.

When parents in Flint first expressed alarm about lead levels in drinking water and the documented impact the chemical has on child development, some were told not to worry. “It’s just a few IQ points,” one recounted being told by a nurse.

Just as flippant responses to the water crisis are repulsive, so too are excuses or weak-willed politics. The challenge is enormous, but the rewards can be equally great. Fixing our water systems addresses a pressing moral and public safety issue, while also creating more than 2 million good jobs.

We are at a cross-roads. Our representatives can continue to tuck their tails and avoid the hard moral and economic issues Flint raises. Or they can face the challenge and support needed investments.

The men and women of LIUNA are ready to fight to protect lives – and we’re ready to get to work doing our job to make America’s water infrastructure safe. It’s up to Congress and elected officials at every level to now do their jobs.

Learn more about our nation’s water infrastructure at www.liuna.org/water