U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passes $35 billion water infrastructure bill

FILE PHOTO: Jolene Bertetto, a water conservation technician with East Bay Municipal Utility District, takes a water sample from a neighborhood in Oakland, California April 8, 2015. Bertetto was conducting investigations into waste water and sources of water leaks as the state’s top water regulators released a framework for enforcing California’s first statewide mandatory restrictions on urban water use. These restrictions include water usage cuts of 25 percent for non-agricultural users, and were ordered last week by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown as a devastating drought enters its fourth year. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith/

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved the first major infrastructure bill in this Congress that would authorize over $35 billion to upgrade the country’s drinking and wastewater systems, a rare bipartisan show of support as the lawmakers remain divided over other infrastructure investments.

The Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act, which passed 89-2, would give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding for grant programs and revolving loan funds to help communities upgrade aging infrastructure, invest in new technologies and support disadvantaged communities.

Democrats hope it will help advance President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, which is focused on transforming the United States into a clean energy economy, while Republicans said its success shows an appetite for legislation focused on more traditional infrastructure investments.

“To truly ‘Build Back Better,’ our nation must prioritize putting Americans back to work repairing and upgrading the aging pipes we all depend on to deliver our water,” said bill co-sponsor Senator Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat, referencing Biden’s sweeping climate change-focused infrastructure plan.

Republican Senator Roy Blunt told Republicans that the water infrastructure bill is “a good indication of willingness of the Congress to engage and rally around traditional infrastructure needs.”

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is working on an alternative to Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan that would cost roughly half as much but spend far more on roads and bridges, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy said on Tuesday.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, a key Senate swing vote who participated in bipartisan discussions with Cassidy, said on Sunday that he would also favor a more targeted approach than Biden’s plan.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Dan Grebler

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