After several incidents with clean water supplies, Massachusetts Senate leaders on Thursday unveiled a bipartisan proposal to allocate more money to the Commonwealth’s water infrastructure.
The proposal, co-sponsored by Senate President Therese Murray and Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, would raise spending caps for the Commonwealth’s Water Pollution Abatement Trust from $88 million to $138 million to be dispersed for projects that would improve water supplies.
“This proposed legislation will address our water and wastewater infrastructure challenges and ensure that the Commonwealth’s future will not be limited by our access to clean drinking water,” Murray said in a Thursday statement.
WPAT borrows money for projects ranging from treatment of wastewater to protection of existing supplies. The proposed bill would allow it to borrow on a low-interest scale ranging from 0 to 2 percent, with projects deemed more important not having to pay interest at all.
The proposal comes three years after a 2010 water pipeline burst that put 30 Massachusetts cities, including Boston, in a state of emergency. At the time, Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick advised all citizens of the affected cities to boil all drinking water before consumption to rid it of potential pathogens.
Many of the issues the bill attempts to address were pointed out in a report released February 2012 by the Massachusetts Water Infrastructure Finance Commission. The report found the Commonwealth has a combined funding gap of $21.4 billion to deal with the issue of inadequate water infrastructure over the next 20 years, which is a project Massachusetts would need to finance.
Murray said the health of Commonwealth’s citizens and, by association, its economy are directly linked to the quality of drinking water, so the bill was an important and necessary investment.
Before the bill can be passed, it still must go through a hearing process with the legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.
Murray said she hoped the bill could be debated by November, or at least when committees reconvene in January.
Several residents said they were unsure whether raising the spending cap by $50 million would be worth the tax money.
Paul Wilson, 64, a resident of Boston, said tax money should go toward other projects that were in bigger threat of collapse.
“The water system seems to be pretty good, excepting major emergencies, and you can’t really [practically] prepare for those,” he said. “The money would be better spent on something else. If the money could go toward, for instance, repairing the MBTA [Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority], then I would be for it. It needs the money. But right now, I’m more in the mood for putting it elsewhere. Unless the system is collapsing, we have bigger problems.”
Jeremy Johnson, 21, a resident of Boston, said the initiative could have strong benefits for Massachusetts.
“Water is obviously really important,” he said. “Yes, it’s a lot of money, but if it has to cost that much, I’m all for it. It [my drinking water] isn’t the cleanest water I’ve ever seen. I’ve never had any problems though, but I’d like to keep it that way, so I’m all for it.”
Sheena Harry, 29, a resident of Boston, said the proposal was a good idea, but the cost was too high.
“We really don’t have that much of an issue with water,” she said. “I wouldn’t say I’m against the bill, but we don’t need to take as much of a big leap. If it were maybe a $15 [million] or $20 million increase, maybe [it would be a good idea], but $50 [million] is just a huge leap and it seems like too much of a gamble with our money.”