Recent initiatives in New York and Pennsylvania represent laudable efforts to address the significant deficit in water infrastructure funding in those states, while highlighting how far they and other states have to go before long term drinking water and wastewater needs are met.
Under a budget agreement recently reached between the state legislature and Governor Cuomo, New York communities will over the next three years be able to tap $200 million ($50 million this year and $75 million in each of the next two) in state matching grants for clean water infrastructure. This program – called the “New York State Water Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2015″ – aims to narrow the funding gap for communities facing billions in neglected water infrastructure projects. Funding for the first three years of the program has been incorporated into the state’s General Fund.
This program recognizes the need to address New York’s crumbling infrastructure and its devastating impact on the state’s communities. Syracuse, for example, has experienced more than 100 water main breaks this year, while Erie County has had more than 350. New York City’s wastewater infrastructure dumps more than 30 billion gallons of raw sewage and stormwater into New York Harbor and surrounding waterways every year, while Long Island communities face a more than $4 billion hole for their immediate wastewater needs. As we have reported before, incidents like these result in boil water alerts, closed roadways and waterways, denied access to drinking water, and severe disruptions to personal lives and businesses.
Governor Tom Wolf recently announced that Pennsylvania would invest $130.7 million in 12 drinking water and wastewater projects across eight counties (Armstrong, Berks, Clarion, Clinton, Cambria, Greene, Mercer and Luzerne) through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST). “These projects are vital to improving Pennsylvania’s clean water infrastructure, leading to a healthier and more sustainable environment for all Pennsylvanians,” said Governor Wolf. “These will lead to expanded job growth, which is critical to the future of the commonwealth.” Of the $130.7 million, $107.5 million is allocated for low-interest loans and $23.1 million is awarded through grants. The funding comes from a combination of state funds approved by voters, federal grants to PENNVEST from the EPA and recycled loan repayments from previous PENNVEST funding awards. Funds for the projects are disbursed after bills for work are paid and receipts are submitted to PENNVEST.
The wastewater projects to be funded include new sewage collection lines, new septic systems and wastewater treatment plants. Drinking water projects include the installation of new drinking water treatment plants, new water meters and new water storage tanks to provide safe and reliable drinking water supply to system users.
Like New York and other states, Pennsylvania is struggling with the effects of aging and inadequate water systems. Cities like Philadelphia as well as rural communities all over the state have suffered with water main breaks and myriad other consequences of decaying water infrastructure.
While these funding initiatives are promising steps in the right direction for New York and Pennsylvania, it is clear that there is far more work to be done to secure adequate funding for repair and replacement of aging and deteriorating water infrastructure. The EPA’s most recent (2011) Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment, which documents state by state drinking water and wastewater needs across the U.S. for the next 20 years, cites Pennsylvania’s needs for expanding, replacing, or rehabilitating drinking water infrastructure at $14.2 billion, and New York’s at $22 billion. The most recent (2008) Wastewater Infrastructure Needs Survey cited Pennsylvania’s needs for publicly owned wastewater collections and treatment facilities over the next two decades at $17.9 billion, and New York’s at $29.7 billion.
So clearly, the recent funding initiatives in New York and Pennsylvania, while encouraging, are merely small steps in a much larger battle to secure funding for states’ unmet water infrastructure needs. We at CWC, while applauding initiatives like these, will keep fighting that battle.