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October 18, 1999


October 18, 1999


Good morning Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee. I am Chuck Fox, Assistant Administrator for Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). I am pleased to be able to talk with you this morning about the Nation's clean water program.

Today is the 27th anniversary of the enactment of the Clean Water Act (CWA). Twenty-seven years ago, the Potomac River was too dirty to swim in, Lake Erie was dying, and the Cuyahoga River was so polluted it burst into flames. Many rivers and beaches were little more than open sewers.

Enactment of the CWA dramatically improved the health of rivers, lakes and coastal waters. It stopped billions of pounds of pollution from fouling the water and doubled the number of waterways safe for fishing and swimming. Today, many rivers, lakes, and coasts are thriving centers of healthy communities.

In my testimony today, I want to describe the work EPA is doing to carry the clean water program forward to the next century and review EPA's work to protect the quality of the Nation's lakes.


Despite tremendous progress, almost 40 percent of the Nation's waterways assessed by States still do not meet water quality goals. Pollution from factories and sewage treatment plants, soil erosion, and wetland losses have been dramatically reduced. But runoff from city streets, rural areas, and other sources continues to degrade the environment and puts drinking water at risk. Fish in many waters still contain dangerous levels of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and other toxic contaminants. Beach closings are increasingly common.

Several years ago, after taking a hard look at the serious water pollution problems around the country, the Administration concluded that implementation of the existing programs was not stopping serious new water pollution threats to public health, living resources, and the Nation's waters, particularly from polluted runoff. We concluded that clean water programs lacked the strength, resources, and framework to finish the job of restoring rivers, lakes, and coastal areas.

In response to this concern, President Clinton and Vice President Gore announced, in February of 1998, a major new effort to speed the restoration of the Nation's waterways. The Clean Water Action Plan builds on the solid foundation of the Clean Water Act and describes over 100 actions -- based on existing statutory authority -- to strengthen efforts to restore and protect water resources.

The Action Plan is built around four key tools to achieve clean water goals.

We are making good progress in implementing the over 100 specific actions described in the Clean Water Action Plan. Congress has provided vital support to this work by appropriating critical funding, including almost doubling funding for reducing polluted runoff to the level of $200 million per year.

Some key accomplishments include: unified assessments of watershed health by States, initiation of several hundred Watershed Restoration Action Strategies, a new BEACH action plan, a response plan for pollution threats to coastal waters, new efforts to support development of riparian buffers, and a contaminated sediment strategy. Many other critical projects are underway at EPA, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Interior, the Army Corps of engineers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other agencies, as well as in States, local governments, and the private sector.

The Clean Water Action Plan is a sound blueprint that takes clean water programs into the next century. I ask, Mr. Chairman, that a copy of the first annual report of progress to implement the Clean Water Action Plan be included as part of my testimony in the hearing record.


I want to take a moment to look at the bigger picture of CWA reauthorization.

As you know, Mr. Chairman, key funding authorizations and several clean water SRF provisions of the CWA expired in 1994. At that time, the Administration saw this as an opportunity to release a detailed proposal for comprehensive amendments to strengthen the CWA. I regret that, since then, there has been no consensus on legislation to strengthen the Clean Water Act.

Over the past several months, however, there has been renewed interest in clean water legislation. Both your Subcommittee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee have held hearings on a range of bills to amend diverse elements of the CWA.

Clean Water Infrastructure

Both House and Senate Committee's have considered bills to expand Federal funding for the existing State revolving loan funds (SRFs) established under Title VI of the Act. As I have indicated in earlier testimony, we believe that the clean water SRFs are an essential tool for meeting clean water needs in the future.

To date, SRFs have assets of about $30 billion and have made over 8,000 individual loans for projects to control sewage pollution and reduce polluted runoff. The EPA 1996 Clean Water Needs Survey estimates that the cost of needed clean water projects is at least $128 billion.

Although the authorization for SRF funding expired in 1994, the President's FY 2000 budget proposes to maintain Federal capitalization of SRFs into the next century. The Administration's goal is to capitalize the SRF programs to revolve at a level of about $2 billion in financial assistance annually over the next several decades. This proposed investment is consistent with the Administration's Deficit Reduction Plan as well as historical levels of Federal assistance for wastewater treatment. It will provide a substantial and sustained contribution to meeting the overall annual need.

Bills pending in the House and Senate proposed higher levels of Federal funding of SRFs. Our understanding of clean water needs is evolving and the Administration would like to encourage a constructive dialogue on the appropriate and affordable long-term funding level for the SRF program.

Other Clean Water Bills

Several other bills have been the subject of recent Congressional hearings. These bills address combined sewer overflows, storm water, and enforcement at Federal facilities. Today, we are focusing on clean lakes.

Although the Administration is pleased to provide comments on the specific provisions of each of these narrowly focused bills, I want to encourage the Congress to consider the need to strengthen the CWA in several critical areas that are not now the subject of proposed legislation. For example, the Administration's proposal in 1994 called for strengthening statutory authority to reduce polluted runoff, better protect wetlands, reduce toxic pollution, and improve compliance and enforcement. The clean water program has evolved over the past 5 years, but most of the recommendations we made in 1994 are still appropriate today.

In addition, recent court decisions have limited our ability to protect wetlands from the harmful effects of draining activities. As a result, we are losing tens of thousands of acres of wetlands.

The Administration stands ready to work with the Congress on the full range of amendments needed to strengthen the Clean Water Act.


Lakes -- A Threatened Natural Resource

As a Nation, we are fortunate to have magnificent lake resources -- 39.9 million lakes with a combined surface area of 41.7 million acres. This is a natural resource of outstanding value. Millions of Americans cherish lakes, whether it is the lake in our backyard, the pond where we learned to ice skate, the lake where we hope to land that championship bass or where we spent that great vacation with our grandparents.

Today there are too many lakes in trouble. States report that they assessed about 40% of lake acres and found that 39% of those assessed lake acres are not meeting water quality goals. About 10% of lakes meeting clean water goals are threatened with impairment.

Major challenges in lake protection lie ahead.

The major sources of pollution to lakes are agricultural runoff, various other diffuse or nonpoint sources, and atmospheric deposition. Urban runoff, sewage, and runoff from construction are also major sources of lake pollution.

Clean Water Programs that Benefit Lakes

The good news for lakes is that many of the core programs now being implemented under the CWA to protect the Nation's water resources generally are effective and appropriate for protecting and restoring lakes.

Some of these core clean water programs are described below.

Lake Protection Programs

Each of the existing core, national clean water programs is making a substantial contribution to the protection of the Nation's lakes. In addition, EPA is working to implement several programs that focus directly on protecting lakes.

V. Clean Lakes Program Reauthorization

Section 314 of the Clean Water Act authorizes funding for projects to protect and restore the quality of lakes. H.R. 2328, which is before the Subcommittee today, would authorize grants for the section 314 program at the level of $100 million per year through fiscal year 2005, and expands authorization for demonstration projects.

In the 1970s and '80s, much of the lakes work funded by EPA was done under the section 314 Clean Lakes Program. Lots of good work was done under this program demonstrating approaches to cleaning up lakes.

For example, States have used section 314 funds for projects to reduce polluted runoff, control acidity, dredge sediment from lakes, and implement remediation projects.

EPA identified several concerns with the program. Funding often was limited to only a few States and some States have had only a few projects. In addition, funding levels were small and variable -- averaging $7.2 million from 1976 through 1995. Also, some projects had limited water quality benefits (e.g. weed control).

In FY 1991, EPA decided to stop requesting funding for the clean lakes grant program. EPA's action was partly a response to concerns about the section 314 grant program and partly on the recognition that many of the new programs enacted in the 1987 amendments to the Act (e.g. the section 319 grant program, the SRF program) provided assistance comparable to that of clean lakes program grants and allow the States to implement what was learned in the clean lakes demonstrations.

The Administration believes that the combined effect of solid, core national programs and the programs designed to specifically protect lakes, mentioned above, is a flexible, effective and appropriate response to the water quality problems facing the Nation's lakes. Funding for projects under the section 314 grant program is not needed at this time. In addition, given the funding constraints faced by the appropriations committees of the Congress, any appropriations under the proposed section 314 funding authorization are likely to deplete funding for the clean water SRF program and the section 319 nonpoint pollution control program. The SRF and 319 programs are flexible tools that have been proven to be effective -- they should be our top priority for Federal investments in clean water. Given these concerns, the Administration is opposed to H.R. 2328.


Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee for this opportunity to testify on progress the Administration is making to implement the Clean Water Act. EPA stands ready to work with the Congress to strengthen all our clean water programs -- for lakes, as well as rivers, coastal waters, and wetlands. We hope to work constructively with congress on challenging but important issues like the appropriate funding level for the SRF program, restoring wetlands protection authority, reducing nonpoint pollution, and improving enforcement.

I will be happy to answer any questions.

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