House Passes Bill to Address Rural Clean Water

Rep. Foster’s HB209 creates Alaska Water & Sewer Advisory Committee

Washington, D.C. – (RealEstateRama) — Rural Alaska’s widespread lack of modern and robust water and sewer infrastructure stands to get a thorough review following the Alaska House’s passage of a bill by Rep. Neal Foster to create an advisory committee to study the best ways to improve conditions.

House Bill 209, which passed unanimously, creates the Alaska Water & Sewer Advisory Committee to examine innovative ways to meet rural needs better, faster and cheaper. The ten member committee would be housed under the Legislature and deliver a report with its findings and recommendations for proposed legislation by Dec. 1, 2017.

“We’ve been trying to address rural safe water and sewer for decades and we’re not making the strides necessary to tackle the problem. Inadequate infrastructure is one of the leading causes of disease and infection in rural Alaska – our needs outstrip our funds. That’s where this Committee comes in,” said Foster, D-Nome. “The goal is, in an official capacity, to educate everyone on the issues faced in rural Alaska and present a formalized, unified voice to go after greater federal funding, or innovation that comes from our collaborative process.”

The Committee will be made up of 10 members, as follows: one member from each the House and Senate appointed by the Legislature’s Bush Caucus; one member from each house appointed by its presiding officer; one public member civil engineer; a Bush Caucus appointee each from a relevant federal agency and a state agency; a Bush Caucus appointee from a large nonprofit tribal health corporation with expertise and seniority; and, two rural public members chosen by the Bush Caucus.

The Committee is tasked with a long list of duties in making up its report, which includes identifying the scope of the problem, estimating the number of homes without safe water and sewer, existing programs and funds, technologies, examining prior state and federal efforts, and holding public meetings.

“This is a large endeavor, to be sure,” said Foster. “It’s worth it. Our lives and health are worth it. We’re the policy making body and it’s time to take the lead in reaching out to rural Alaska, to our federal and Arctic partners to see how best we can meet this need, especially under our current revenue climate.”

The current budget carries $51.5 million in funding for village water and sewer projects, which is estimated only to cover eight percent of the need. Of the funds, nearly 40-percent cover maintenance to existing systems. “There are thousands of homes in our state without piped sewer and water systems, and the costs keep growing,” said Foster. “The approach we’re taking now isn’t meeting the need, so let’s try something new and bring a greater focus and intent, with the weight of the legislature, behind it. Thank you.”

HB209 now moves to the Alaska Senate.

Contact: Paul LaBolle, 907-465-3789.

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