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Alabama town's water crisis forces them to decide between putting out fires or draining water supply

Shows what's at stake in infrastructure reform
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Posted at 12:15 PM, Apr 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-16 12:15:15-04

REFORM, Ala. — To find out how serious America's water infrastructure problems are, it helps to speak with an engineer.

Jonathon Bonner has been in charge of water supplies in towns for 37 years. He knows water.

And when it comes to the prospect of reforming infrastructure, why not head to a town where it's literally in the name? Bonner is the city engineer in Reform, Alabama.

OFFICIALS FEEL THE PRESSURE

"It’s in rough shape right now," Bonner said, pointing to one of the town's wells.

For Bonner, it's not the duct tape or physical rust that is the concern. It's the fact that below the ground, crud has accumulated — a sign the situation is getting worse.

Fixing the well would cost tens of thousands of dollars — money that Reform doesn't have.

"They are relying on me. They are relying on the city to make sure this works in order to give them clean, safe drinking water," Bonner said.

Lately, it hasn't been an easy task.

In January, a car crashed into a hydrant, which completely drained the town's water tank. Residents of the 1,400 person town relied on the generosity of others for water.

In February, cold weather prompted 21 separate leaks.

The worst situation may have been in October, when Bonner and his team had to call the fire chief who was battling a fire at a nearby plant.

"You all are going to stop putting water on your fire, or the town’s not going to have water," Bonner said.

WHAT'S AT STAKE IN INFRASTRUCTURE DEBATE

As Congress debates whether or not to pass major infrastructure reform, towns like Reform will be watching closely.

"That’s the hiccup we are facing, money, it’s hard to find funds," Mayor Melody Davis said.

President Joe Biden's plan currently calls for $111 billion to be spent on fixing water infrastructure issues in the U.S. Biden wants to pay for it by raising the corporate tax.

It's estimated that a water main break happens every two minutes in the U.S. and that so much treated water is lost every day through bad pipes that 9,000 swimming pools could be filled.

WHERE THINGS STAND

Negotiations between the White House and Congress are expected to last most of the summer.

Democrats could pass the legislation by themselves if they can keep their caucus together. In the Senate, every Democratic Senator would need to be on board.

There is a push for bipartisanship on this issu,e but many Republicans have said they don't want to pay for it by raising the corporate tax.