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Washington — Eight congressional Democrats, led by Rep. John Conyers of Detroit, are pushing to spend $35 billion per year on water infrastructure improvements in the wake of Flint’s lead contamination crisis.

The proposed Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability Act would “create a trust fund called the WATER Fund to support our drinking water and clean water infrastructure,” according to Conyers’ office.

Conyers said during a press conference at the Capitol that a boost in funding for water improvements is long overdue, pointing to water contamination in places like Flint, Washington, D.C., Toledo and Corpus Christi, Texas.

“Decades of underinvestment have made water — the foundation of life on Earth — a luxury for too many and this is the first bill that does something about it,” said Conyers, who is the most tenured member of the U.S. House.

Conyers said the water funding measure would be paid for by taxing “corporate incomes earned abroad to pay for needed investments here at home” through a process that is typically referred to as repatriation.

“The need for increased investment is undeniable,” he said. “The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that we need at least $35 billion a year to catch up, which is a tragedy because we neglected it for so long.”

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, who is a co-sponsoring the measure with Conyers and group of six other House Democrats, said the new trust fund for water infrastructure improvements is necessary because “water is a basic human need.

“We call it a right, but it’s a human need,” she said. “And here we are in America being confronted with an infrastructure challenge of providing safe, clean water to our constituents ... We have kicked this can down the road for too many years, and now the reality of human life is being challenged based on our lack of leadership and investment in our infrastructure.”

The measure is unlikely to win support from Republicans who are in control in both chambers of Congress in the middle of a heated presidential election. No Republicans were present at Tuesday’s press conference or have co-sponsored the legislation to create a new trust fund for water projects.

In April, Michigan House Republicans led by U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar of Midland introduced legislation that would make $30 million available to crisis-stricken Flint and another $40 million to rural communities for water infrastructure improvements. In early February, U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, sought $1 billion in emergency federal funding to replace Flint’s underground pipeline system.

Water advocates promised to pressure lawmakers to take up the measure to create a trust fund for infrastructure improvements that could help prevent a recurrence of the problems that have cropped up in Flint.

“This should be one of the highest priority pieces of legislation to pass,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of the Food and Water Watch group.

Conyers said Tuesday he will be pushing his colleagues in Congress to support the measure to boost the nation’s spending on water infrastructure.

“We have seen the cost in places like Detroit,” Conyers said. “In Detroit, what we do is cut off the services of water because the rates are so high that people can’t afford it, and then they start leading into other health problems.”

klaing@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8735

Twitter: @Keith_Laing

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