JEFFERSON CITY — A bill that would mandate regular checks and reports on drinking water quality and water infrastructure conditions sparked controversy at a Senate hearing Wednesday, as some worried it would pare down local control and add financial burden to communities.
Senate Bill 66, sponsored by Sen. Bill White, R-Joplin, would require public water systems in Missouri to create an "asset management plan" that addresses funding priorities and establishes programs for water main renewal, water supply and treatment.
A public water system is any entity that supplies drinking water through pipes or other channels to at least 25 people for 60 days or more per year, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
The bill would also require each system to record locations of valves and hydrants and conduct regular inspections.
Under the bill, if the state finds three violations of any kind, or two violations in a year with contaminants exceeding the safe levels in drinking water, the water suppliers would have to submit a plan to the state to fix the problems within 60 days of the latest violation.
White and proponents of the bill said it would ensure drinking water safety and could help systems discover problems before it’s too late.
"(The bill) forces them to have data that gives a very clear snapshot of the state of their assets," White said. "The ultimate goal is we want to have safe water and a secure water supply."
Those who testified against the bill worried the state would be overreaching. Some said the communities, instead of the state, would be the ones to bear the cost of implementing the new plan and smaller systems might not be able to afford it.
White said the fiscal impact on each system might vary depending on how poor the infrastructure or water quality is.
Lacey Hirschvogel, a representative of the Missouri Association of Municipal Utilities, called the bill an "unfunded mandate that diminishes the local control of the community."
"We feel that the (plan) will not fix the bad actors, the criminal actors that are supplying (undrinkable) water," Hirschvogel said, "but we do believe that a fully funded water protection program ... as well as adequate staff to enforce the current regulation will fix these issues."
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