Reprinted from Water & Wastes Digest Blog

Associations in the water and wastewater industry are accustomed to monitoring and advocating for or against certain federal bills, most notably those affecting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Recently, however, we found ourselves in the midst of discussions regarding a transportation bill affecting U.S. rail service.

Specifically, Congress entered debate about a possible extension to positive train control (PTC) regulations, which, according to a law passed in 2008, were to be enforced beginning December 31, 2015. PTC uses wireless radio signals to provide an automated safety backup that can stop or slow a train if its engineer fails to do so. While of course we all support safe rail transit, a recently released study by the General Accountability Office indicated that most railroads were not prepared to meet the December 31 deadline.

What does this have to do with water? The PTC rule affects the transportation of chlorine and anhydrous ammonia, two critical chemicals used in water disinfection. A disruption in rail service for these products would mean severe supply interruptions for water and wastewater treatment plants and utilities.

On October 22, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unanimously passed the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 3763), which pushes the deadline to have the automated safety systems up and running back from this December to the end of 2018, with a possible two-year grace period until 2020 pending certain conditions. Water groups, transportation groups and many other associations whose industries would have been affected by these regulations spoke up and successfully educated Congress on the broader impacts of the legislation on the economy and public health and safety.

Advocacy programs work, and the more voices projecting a message, the better. Our nation’s public infrastructure is interconnected in ways many of us never even consider, so working together within the water industry and with other industries is imperative.