Oklahoma’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure could get a significant boost from legislation making its way through Congress. The bill has the support of both Democrats and Republicans -- and one Oklahoma Republican in particular.
The first 100 days of the Biden presidency have served as a reminder that even with an administration in place that pledged to work across the aisle on major issues, partisanship is still the rule on Capitol Hill.
"But this bill is a real example of how that’s not always the case," said Sen. Jim Inhofe, (R) OK, on the Senate floor Thursday.
On the actual 100th day of the Biden administration, Congress voted 89-2 to pass the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021, of which Sen. Inhofe professed to be a proud co-sponsor.
"Because it not only recognizes that urban and rural communities have different water infrastructure needs," Inhofe said to his colleagues, "but it also provides specific benefits to rural states like my state of Oklahoma."
The bill would put $35 billion into state water systems and programs over the next five years, establish an operational sustainability program for smaller water systems, create a separate grant program for large and midsize drinking water systems, and nearly double funding for grants aimed at removing lead from drinking water.
Specific benefits to Oklahoma include $318 million for water infrastructure projects, including major projects in Oklahoma City, Lawton, Stillwater, and Bartlesville. There's $840,000 for research on wastewater re-use, and funding for Enhanced Aquifer Recharge (EAR) research in Ada.
"Drinking water and wastewater disposal are two issues that are pretty expensive," Sen. Inhofe said in an interview this week, "and it’s something that we need help in Oklahoma on."
Oklahoma provided help in crafting the bill: DEQ Water Quality Division Director Shellie Chard testified at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee's hearing on it last month. Committee Chairman Sen. Tom Carper, (D) DE, said every member contributed something to the bill before they voted 20-0 to send it to the full Senate.
"We just don't see this kind of bipartisanship often enough," said Sen. Carper Thursday before the vote of the full Senate. "I talked earlier about, we're leaders, we have a responsibility to lead by example and we're trying to do that here today. That remarkable consensus is why this bill is so worthy of our support."
The bill now heads to the House. There's no word yet on when it will be taken up there.