May 01, 2024

Wyden, Merkley, Luján, Heinrich Introduce Bill to Help Identify and Address Water and Sanitation Needs of Underserved Communities

To address and eliminate the water access gap in America, where more than two million Americans live without running water and basic indoor plumbing, new bill would prioritize comprehensive data collection

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., today introduced the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Access Data Collection Act of 2024 (WASH Access Data Collection Act) to make sure the United States has the comprehensive data it needs to address the water and sanitation needs of rural, Tribal and other underserved communities. In addition to improving national data collection, the bill would also expand interagency coordination by establishing a working group to further help identify needs and where to prioritize federal investments. 

In the United States, no one is collecting comprehensive data to accurately measure the water and sanitation access gap across the country. Current federal data undercounts vulnerable communities, underrepresents wastewater services, and contains inconsistencies. As a result, there are not enough investments in critical water service and delivery infrastructure for communities that have suffered from water insecurity, poverty, and health disparities. 

“Access to clean drinking water is a human right,” Wyden said. “Yet, communities in Oregon and nationwide have repeatedly been left with contaminated water or none at all. Making sure there is accurate data that reflects the needs of all communities – and keeping agencies in lock step – is a crucial first step in closing the water access gap forever.”

“Reliable access to clean drinking water is vital to the health and safety of all communities in Oregon and the United States,” Merkley said. “So many underserved communities lack access to safe basic necessities—this is wrong. The WASH Access Data Collection Act prioritizes data collection on water access needs across our country, which will help us address and eliminate the water access gap once and for all.”

“Every community in New Mexico and across the country, especially those on rural and Tribal lands, deserve reliable access to water. In order to make this a reality, the federal government needs the most accurate information to understand gaps in water access,” Luján said. “That’s why I’m introducing this legislation that will improve federal capabilities to collect data on water access needs across the country."

A one-page summary of the bill is here

The text of the bill is here.

The bill is endorsed by DigDeep, the American Business Water Coalition, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, the International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials (IAPMO), the U.S. Water Alliance, and Universal Access to Clean Water for Tribal Communities. It is also supported by members of the Vessel Collective including Moonshot Missions, Pacific Institute, GreenLatinos, Water for People, the Center for Water Security and Cooperation, Community Engineering Corps, and the Johns Hopkins Center for Indigenous Health.

George McGraw, Founder and CEO, DigDeep:  “The WASH Access Data Collection Act is a critical step forward in our fight to ensure clean water and safe sanitation for all Americans. This legislation will provide the comprehensive data needed to identify and effectively address disparities in access for the millions of people still living without taps or toilets. By identifying the communities most in need, we can ensure these fundamental human rights are a reality for every American, regardless of race or income or zip code. Today, we celebrate the ingenuity and hard work that has already brought clean water to so many Americans and reaffirm our commitment to closing the water access gap once and for all.”

Mae Stevens, CEO, American Business Water Coalition: “Closing the water access gap is critical for improving quality of life and economic development for the millions of Americans living in communities unserved by modern water infrastructure services. Estimates suggest that this gap costs the U.S. economy over $8 billion per year, but more information is needed to understand the problem and solutions to address it. The WASH Access Data Collection Act takes important steps to gather information needed to assist these communities.”

Dain Hansen, Executive Vice President of Government Relations, International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO): “IAPMO is proud to once again support the WASH Access Data Collection Act. This vital legislation is designed to bridge significant gaps in our national water access data. It also establishes a federal interagency working group to enhance coordination and cooperation across the federal government, tackling water and sanitation needs more effectively. We look forward to working with Congress, federal agencies, and industry partners to better understand and to help close the water and sanitation access gaps so many communities across our country get the water and sanitation services they need.”

Ted Stiger, Chief External Affairs & Policy Officer, Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP): “The WASH Access Data Collection 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.”

Heather Tanana, Initiative Lead, Universal Access to Clean Water for Tribal Communities: “Tribal communities continue to experience severe water insecurity. Too many families are forced to incur the substantial costs associated with hauled or purchased water in order to survive. While we have seen unprecedented federal commitment to closing the water gap in the United States, the lack of reliable data remains a barrier in effectively deploying solutions. This bill will promote agency collaboration and accountability to ensure that those most in need are not left behind.”

Mami Hara, CEO, U.S. Water Alliance: “We at the Alliance are happy to see this legislation apply a One Water approach to understanding the water access needs in this country and we look forward to working with Congress to help build out our growing domestic WASH sector.”

Kabir Thatte, Strategic Advisor, The Vessel Collective: “Everyone deserves a right to water and sanitation. The WASH Access Data Collection Act is a critical step towards addressing the urgent need for accurate and comprehensive data on water and sanitation access across the United States. Not only will this legislation reveal the extent of WASH disparities nationwide, it will enable communities and policymakers to prioritize and create solutions that reach the most underserved populations. This bill represents a significant milestone in our nation’s commitment to ensuring every person nationwide has access to basic WASH services.”