If the federal government is going to impose mandates on local water systems to make drinking water safer for residents, the amount of money sent directly to local communities needs to be increased, a local mayor told senators Thursday.

David Berger, mayor of Lima, Ohio, told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Thursday that mayors around the country recognize that drinking water and wastewater infrastructure needs to be overhauled. However, water infrastructure is so expensive that it's impossible for many cities to pay for the necessary work.

Berger said the current system of the federal government sending grants to states and those states then loaning that money to local communities isn't working. Instead, the federal government should be providing grants directly to cities, he said.

"The federal government needs to look back at the time when the Clean Water Act was first implemented and the Safe Drinking Water Act, and look at the successes the federal government had when it had skin in the game," Berger said.

The hearing, which sought to examine the federal government's role in updating the country's drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, was a step on the way to new legislation on water infrastructure.

The issue has been highlighted in recent months as the city of Flint, Mich., undergoes a drinking water crisis. A polluted river caused aging lead pipes to corrode and contaminate drinking water in the city, leaving about 100,000 people unable to drink their tap water.

Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., was one of the key senators who negotiated a deal to help the beleaguered city but wanted to make sure it would be a nationwide solution instead of being centered on Flint. On Thursday, Inhofe said he's concerned about the state of water infrastructure in the U.S. but unfunded federal mandates would only continue to hurt cities.

In most water systems around the country, ratepayers fund service and construction projects on new infrastructure. But, Inhofe said the federal government keeps imposing new regulations and mandates without providing any funding.

"We are no longer just paying for services," Inhofe said. "We are also paying for unfunded federal mandates. As federal mandates pile up, the bills paid by individual homeowners pile up and are becoming unaffordable for many Americans."

Berger backed up Inhofe's point by describing the Environmental Protection Agency's classification system for various waterways with a local example.

A river in Lima is held to the regulatory standard of a river that is both swimmable and fishable, he said. But, if regulators asked anyone from Lima about that river, they would have been told that's not the case.

"That river dries up in the summer to only four-inch deep pools of stagnant water," he said. "I can safely say no one is ever going to swim in that river but yet we are still held to that standard of compliance."

There was broad bipartisan agreement on the committee that more money needs to go toward updating water infrastructure, but Democrats disagreed with the idea of doing away with federal mandates.

California Sen. Barbara Boxer, the top Democrat on the committee, said she had no problem with doing away with "ridiculous" mandates that don't make sense. But she said regulations need to be done in a smart way based on science and common sense.

She told Berger and other local officials in front of the committee that a better dialogue is needed.

"What we have to do is hear you," she said. "If something is totally useless and won't have a benefit, tell us. But, if it will have a benefit, we have to work together and protect your people."