U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper (R--Miss.) introduced a bill today that seeks to ensure the public availability of safe and affordable drinking water in rural communities.
This bill would reauthorize and modernize much needed technical assistance and compliance training for small water districts to meet federal compliance for an additional five years.
Harper authored similar legislation in the 112th Congress that was ultimately rolled into a larger package that extended the support services through September of 2012.
"Without these services, safe and clean water for rural communities and small municipalities throughout Mississippi would be put in jeopardy," Harper said.
A federal law that passed in 1996 authorized technical assistance for small and rural communities to assist them in complying with agency regulations issued under the "Safe Drinking Water Act." The program is designed to make sure that federal regulations do not overwhelm the resources of rural water districts.
But this U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program is often overlooked, resulting in funds moving to more-populated areas of the country. Harper suggests that this places thousands of rural homes at risk of losing access to safe drinking water.
"This bill provides smaller communities -- the exact areas intended to be reached by this program -- with the necessary resources to fulfill federal clean water laws," added Harper, who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The National Rural Water Association, America's largest community-based water organization, praised the program's continuation.
"Water quality is one of the most pressing public health concerns in rural Mississippi and is essential for long-term economic sustainability," said Kirby Mayfield, executive director of the Mississippi Rural Water Association. "However, due to a lack of economies of scale, it is often more difficult for small towns to comply with federal rules and afford the latest technology."
In addition to being the main source of compliance aid, rural water technical assistance contributes to emergency response efforts, such as Hurricane Katrina when hundreds of communities relied on assistance from surrounding state rural water associations.
Approximately 1,000 Mississippi communities receive water from rural water associations or small municipalities. Nationwide, over 93 percent of community water systems serve a population of less than 10,000 residents.