March 22, 2022

Wyden, Merkley, Heinrich Introduce Bill to Expand Access to Clean Drinking Water, Safe Sanitation for Underserved Communities

Legislation introduced on World Water Day would increase data on water access gap, create grant program to empower communities

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore, Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., today introduced legislation that would expand access to safe sanitation and clean drinking water for rural and underserved communities.

Between historic drought and increasingly outdated infrastructure, Western communities are in desperate need of federal help to shore up access to clean drinking water and safe sanitation,” Wyden said. “Access to clean drinking water is a human right, and this legislation is a key piece of the puzzle in helping identify just how far-reaching the water access gap is, and then responding with investments supporting those communities to close that gap across Oregon and nationwide.”

Reliable access to clean drinking water is vital to the health and safety of any community—especially during an ongoing global pandemic,” Merkley said. “Far too many underserved communities lack access to safe basic necessities—this is wrong. I look forward to continuing my work with Senator Wyden and Senator Heinrich to do all we can to ensure clean and reliable drinking water and safe sanitation for all our communities here in Oregon and beyond.”

The Infrastructure Law includes transformative investments in clean water projects across New Mexico,” Heinrich said. “The WASH Sector Development Act is a chance to build off of this success, create a clear picture of communities still lacking access to drinking water and sanitation, and establish a grant program to fill in the gaps. I’m proud to join Senator Wyden to introduce this legislation to protect access to this precious resource for generations to come.”

Federal data currently fails to accurately measure the water and sanitation access gap in America, resulting in a lack of adequate investment in critical infrastructure for rural, tribal, and underserved communities. 

The Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Sector Development Act of 2022 would close the drinking water access gap by increasing reliable data from households without access, and establishing a pilot grant program to empower organizations working to help communities gain access to these critical resources.

A one-page summary of the bill is here.

Text of the bill is here.

The bill is endorsed by a wide range of water advocacy and environmental organizations, including DigDeep, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, the U.S. Water Alliance, Water For People, and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials.

George McGraw, Founder and CEO, DigDeep: “The WASH Sector Development Act is an essential piece of legislation and a critical step in closing the water and sanitation access gap in the U.S. DigDeep has long championed creative solutions for low-income and marginalized communities struggling with inadequate water infrastructure. We estimate that over 2.2 million Americans are living without basic infrastructure like taps and toilets, and this legislation will provide the granular information the country needs to get an accurate count and to provide targeted assistance. We are also thrilled that the legislation authorizes a first-of-its-kind program for decentralized drinking water systems in communities without access to a grid."

Mami Hara, CEO, U.S. Water Alliance: “It is unacceptable that over two million people in the US still lack access to basic household water and sanitation services. The WASH Sector Development Act takes steps to help address this water access gap by making smart, targeted investments and identifying solutions that work for all communities. I am grateful for Senator Wyden’s introduction of this important legislation, and I am hopeful that it advances.”

Keith Ashby, Interim CEO, Rural Community Assistance Partnership: “The WASH Sector Development Act will help bring safe drinking water and sanitary wastewater disposable infrastructure to the more than two million Americans living without running water and basic indoor plumbing. RCAP thanks Senator Wyden for introducing this important legislation, which also includes a much needed Water and Sanitation Needs Federal Working Group to address the needs that will benefit our most vulnerable communities.”

Dain M. Hansen, Executive Vice President Government Affairs, IAPMO: “Access to clean water and safe sanitation are basic human rights. On World Water Day — and every day — our mission at IAPMO is to leverage our resources and expertise to help address this critical national and worldwide issue. We are confident that these types of programs and policies, along with working with like-minded partners, will improve the quality of life for millions of the world’s citizens who struggle to access and reap the benefits of one of our most precious resources: water.”

Catarina de Albuquerque, CEO, UN Sanitation and Water for All Global Partnership; former UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to water and sanitation: “This legislation is inspirational, and an important example of a developed country taking action to ensure universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation, a commitment made by all States when they adopted the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. When I visited the United States on an official fact finding mission as United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to water and sanitation in 2011, I called for comprehensive federal legislation to ensure the realization of these international human rights. As we commemorate World Water Day, I congratulate the United States on this critical step to uphold human rights, and ensure safe water and sanitation for all.”

Eleanor Allen, CEO, Water For People: "Water For People believes that Everyone should have access to clean water and sanitation, Forever. This is why we support the introduction of the WASH Sector Development Act of 2022. Water For People has long championed solutions around the world that lead to lasting quality services. In turn, we recognize the robust impact this piece of legislation could have on the lives of millions of Americans that still lack basic water and sanitation."

Anne Castle, co-chair of the Initiative on Universal Access to Clean Water for Tribal Communities: "Tribal households are the most likely to lack access to clean and safe drinking water as compared to any other demographic in the nation. Senator Wyden's legislation takes a critical step toward remedying this tragic deficiency and fulfilling the Federal government's trust responsibility to Native Americans."


Press Contact

Emily Zahnle-Hostetler (Wyden) 202-224-5244