As Flint officials handle the water crisis sickening town residents, state and local lawmakers should take a closer look at their own water supply and infrastructure viability. Thankfully, ALEC members have focused on this issue for years and can offer solutions that can be applied back home.
ALEC is the largest nonprofit, voluntary membership association of state legislators focused on solving state policy issues that follow the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism. Supporters of big government policies will contend government is the solution, not the problem, to crises such as those facing Flint. ALEC, however, approaches policy ideas with the simple belief that government can and should work with the private sector to make government services more efficient, effective and accountable to the people they serve.
ALEC has a long track record of supporting research and model policy stressing the importance of water safety and groundwater infrastructure management. ALEC model policy consistently affirms that water purity is a public good and that federal, state and local governments should collaborate to protect affected communities.
The ALEC model policy, The Groundwater Protection Act, which ALEC members passed and the Board approved in 1995 and reapproved in 2013, calls for a partnership between state and federal agencies—including the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency—to ensure the best possible assessment of water purity. The responsibility for managing water safety then falls on the applicable state agency.
The ALEC Water/Wastewater Utility Public-Private Partnership Act, adopted by ALEC in 1999 and reapproved in 2013, gives local government agencies the flexibility they need to develop, repair and maintain water and wastewater utilities. According to research cited in the act, “The U.S. EPA estimates that nearly $300 billion dollars in infrastructure investments will be needed to ensure safe drinking water and clean waterways in our nation’s communities.”
In 2013, Dr. Bonner Cohen, senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, authored a research paper for ALEC, titled Lowering Costs in Water Infrastructure through Procurement Reform: A Strategy for State Governments. Cohen asserted that corroded pipes represent an imminent threat to public health.
“With thousands of miles of corroded pipes already beyond their life expectancy, rehabilitation of the nation’s water networks is not an option, it is a necessity,” Cohen wrote in the report.
Cohen’s paper examined the costs associated with corroded pipes and offered ways states can mitigate the expense of replacing them. Cohen revisited his argument in April 2015 on the ALEC blog when he highlighted Indiana, Ohio, Arkansas and North Carolina for considering legislation that opens water infrastructure projects up to competitive bidding. He notes the USDA’s procurement policies as an example of a successful reform.
In March 2015, Jon Russell, the director of the American City County Exchange (ACCE) and Culpeper, Virginia town councilman, published an editorial in Public Works magazine urging local governments to consider competitive bidding in pipe procurement practices. His point: government can save money, and get better results, by partnering with the private sector on infrastructure projects.
Similar to ALEC, ACCE brings together local government officials to discuss and exchange ideas based on the principles of limited government and free markets. Two years ago, ACCE members adopted The Open and Fair Competition Resolution for Municipal [or Local] Water and Wastewater Projects as a way to provide options to local policymakers whose governments had a habit of awarding no-contest contracts to companies for wastewater projects. As Russell wrote in his editorial, “The first goal of elected officials should be to operate in the most efficient way possible to save taxpayers money without compromising services.”
One only needs to review the body of work and research on the ALEC website to see that ALEC and ACCE have been warning of water infrastructure issues for years. The Flint water crisis was a failure of government on multiple levels, and it is time states and localities took a sober look at their infrastructure in light of the tragedy. ALEC and ACCE resources are good starting point for lawmakers looking to prevent similar crises in their hometowns.
Molly Drenkard is Director of Media Relations at the American Legislative Exchange Council. Lauren Bellamy contributed to this report.