Clean Water, Good Jobs

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, October 9, 2019

In 2016, the country was shocked when we learned that an entire city’s water supply in Flint, Michigan was contaminated, harming children and leaving a community relying on bottled water and fearful of their faucets. 

We’ve heard stories about critical water quality issues in Oregon, too, like cyanobacteria contamination in Salem, and water boiling advisories in Warm Springs.  In other communities, getting ahead of their water infrastructure needs meant ratepayers facing big increases on their bills.  All of this is why I created the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program, called WIFIA.

WIFIA creates jobs and helps local communities build new water facilities and fix old and crumbling water pipes. That’s why I was excited to be in Tualatin this morning to celebrate Oregon’s first WIFIA project, the Willamette Water Supply Program, which will serve the greater Portland metro area for generations to come.          

Back in 2012, drinking water officials in Washington County suggested that a federal loan program could make a huge difference as they tried to build and repair their water system.  I had been hearing from other local governments all across Oregon that there was a frustrating and costly gap in financing options for badly-needed water infrastructure projects. I fought to create and fund WIFIA because when we give local communities the help they need to confront steep up-front costs, we can create jobs and complete the long-term infrastructure improvement projects that save ratepayers money and, more importantly, keep our communities safe and healthy.

Funds invested into this program are used to secure low-interest loans for long-term infrastructure investments, meaning every dollar of WIFIA funding supports roughly $90 in total investment. This year, I used my seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee to help secure enough funding for up to $7.3 billion in investments — a huge help for critical drinking water and wastewater treatment projects across the country. For the program I visited today, TVWD and the City of Hillsboro ratepayers will save an estimated $264 million in loan interest compared to typical bond financing.

Every Oregonian deserves access to clean, modern, and up-to-date water systems. Please know that I’ll never stop fighting for the clean water and good jobs that our communities need — and I’ll always listen to local communities in every corner of Oregon so that your voices are heard in DC.

All my best,

Jeff