Baffling: As Flint Water Controversy Explodes, Obama Proposes Cutting Community Water Funding by $257 Million

President Obama's proposed budget would cut such programs by 11%.

FLINT, MICHIGAN January 23, 2016: Bottled Water Distribution By National Guard At Fire Station 6, In Downtown Flint, January 23, 2016, Downtown Flint, Michigan
Photo Credit: Linda Parton / Shutterstock.com

In the wake of the Flint, Michigan water crisis and service shutoffs in nearby cities like Detroit, many believe the country is experiencing a water infrastructure catastrophe. In this political climate, President Obama's proposed budget to Congress this week would cut federal funding for community water services by $257 million.

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, released a statement criticizing the cuts. “Following the Flint water crisis, which is emblematic of our national water woes, it is outrageous that the Obama administration can’t be moved to truly step up and deliver the leadership needed to fully fund our water infrastructure,” her statement reads. “With the exception of the recovery stimulus, this administration has shown no interest in adequately investing in our water infrastructure.”

The public call for heads to roll in Flint has reached the level of law enforcement. This week a top investigator in the Flint probe announced that local officials could potentially face manslaughter charges for their roles in allowing the city’s water supply to be poisoned. This makes the proposed federal cuts all the more puzzling.

The 2017 budget also proposes adding money to the EPA program that offers grants and loans to help water systems, but it aims to pay for this by making much larger cuts to the EPA's clean water programs. Critics have tagged the idea as absurd. Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Mae Wu writes, "Cutting funds that help keep pollution out of our water and moving the money to remove pollution once it's already in our drinking water is no solution at all."

The proposed budget provides $1,020.5 billion for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and $979.5 million for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which is an 11% cut from last year.

The Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund (DWSRF) was established via 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act and has provided $27.9 billion to water systems through 2014. That assistance has helped communities improve water supplies, and improve damaged pipes and drinking water treatment.

The Clean Water State Revolving Fund was established via the 1987 amendments to the Clean Water Act and has provided every state with grants to improve their water infrastructure and control pollution. 

Michael Arria covers labor and social movements. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelarria

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