Water Infrastructure Approps May Again Fall Victim to House Protests

The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2017, the legislation that funds the EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF), Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF), and Water Infrastructure Financing Innovation Act (WIFIA) programs, may be, for the second year in a row, derailed by protests related to an entirely separate issue.

In late July 2015, the Interior Appropriations bill was pulled by then-Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), after Democrats successfully attached an amendment to the bill banning the display of the Confederate Flag on any federal land, essentially poisoning the bill.

This year, the House Democrats’ held a sit-in demanding action on gun-control measures, causing chaos in the House Chamber and forcing an early adjournment for a week-long recess before the 4th of July. The House was expected to take up the Financial Services Appropriations bill, but protests delayed that action which will likely bump the Interior Appropriations bill, which is on deck, out of the calendar previously scheduled week of July 4th. Democrats have promised to reconvene their protests, potentially causing greater delays or scrapping as neither the House or Senate are expected to be in-session during the Republican and Democratic Presidential Conventions July 18-21 and 25-28, respectively. The following week begins the five-week August Recess, making the next possible opportunity for consideration the second week of September.

We at CWC fully expect the House and Senate to enact robust increased appropriations for EPA’s SRF programs and capitalization of the WIFIA program with the full-authorized amount of $50 million. Anything less would reflect a lack of seriousness and understanding about America’s water infrastructure struggles and needs.

NUCA has set up an action alert for the House’s action on the Interior, Environment, and related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2017. Please take a moment to send your Representative a letter requesting action and increased funding for water infrastructure.

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Water Infrastructure Legislation Galore

Over the past few months, Congress has seen a flurry of activity surrounding our nation’s water infrastructure. A welcome change, no doubt, but we must continue to keep up the pressure. Introducing legislation is a meaningful step, but Congressional action and passage of meaningful legislation to improve America’s aging water infrastructure is paramount.

As we have said here previously, investing in water infrastructure creates jobs, repairs a greatly deficient public service, and stimulates the economy, in addition to the substantial public health and well-being benefits.

On February 25, 2016, Senator Ben Cardin introduced S. 2583, the Firm, Unwavering National Dedication (FUND) to Water Act. This legislation more than triples the authorization levels for EPA’s State revolving Fund programs. The bill would increase the Clean Water SRF to $5.18 billion in fiscal year 2017 and raise authorization levels incrementally until $9.06 billion in fiscal year 2021. For the Drinking Water SRF, authorization levels would range from $3.13 billion in 2017 to $5.5 billion in 2021.

On April 20, 2016, 26 Senators introduced S. 2821,  the Testing, Removal and Updated Evaluations of Lead Everywhere in America for Dramatic Enhancements that Restore Safety to Homes, Infrastructure and Pipes (TRUE LEADERSHIP) Act of 2016. This legislation, through a combination of loans, grants and tax credits, would inject over $70 billion over the next 10 years into water infrastructure projects for the removal and replacement of lead drinking water pipes.

On April 25, 2016, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) and Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced the S. 2848, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). This legislation authorizes 25 Army Corps of Engineers projects in 17 states. WRDA will also make the Water Infrastructure Financing Innovation Act program permanent, which will provide low-interest loans to large scale water infrastructure projects. S. 2848 also creates a water trust fund which will provide capitalization grants for water infrastructure projects, financed by fees collected from a voluntary labeling system on consumer goods.

On May 24th, the House Appropriations Committee released FY17 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill. In total, the bill would shave $186 million off of the EPA’s State Revolving Fund Programs, but increases the Drinking Water SRF by $207 million. The bill will also provides $50 million to capitalize the WIFIA program.

The Clean Water Council supports any and all efforts to advance water infrastructure through financing, innovation, and streamlining. Encourage your Representative and Senators to support meaningful investment in water infrastructure

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Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District:  Federal Funds Needed for Repair and Replacement of Aging Water Systems

Idaho’s 2nd District, in the eastern portion of the State and covering most of Boise, is represented by House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee Vice Chair Mike Simpson. This area suffers from the water infrastructure problems common throughout Western States; funding is critically needed to inspect, repair and replace aging distribution lines, wastewater systems, and dams.
Boise utilities face the problems common to municipal operators all over the country:  an aging pipe network that experiences leaks, low pressure, and frequent collapses. According to a recent EPA survey, Boise is one of 32 cities in which “severe” levels of pipe corrosion was observed. As a result, age-related water main breaks are commonplace. Several weeks ago, for example, multiple businesses in an area of 17th Street west of Jennie Lee Drive were affected by a main break, and traffic was reduced to one lane during repairs. We previously reported on the flooding of a Boise intersection near the Darigold plant due to a main break, forcing the closure of North Allumbaugh and Fairmont streets because of several inches of standing water on the roads. Another water main break occurred at the intersection of 16th and Main Streets in downtown Boise and the intersection had to be closed to westbound traffic for two days. In Twin Falls, Harrison Elementary School had to close due to an 8-inch water line break in front of the school. Police had to re-route traffic using Polk Street for close to four hours, and residents were asked to boil water before drinking while contamination tests were conducted.
 
In the most recently released report card for Idaho’s infrastructure, the Southern Idaho Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) reported that the vast majority of Idaho’s infrastructure lacks proper maintenance funding and is poorly equipped to deal with the increasing demands it faces as the state continues to grow; funding for water and wastewater systems was found to be inadequate to meet future capacity and funding needs. As a result, utilities have been forced to raise rates for consumers. Last May, for example, United Water Idaho, the largest water provider in Idaho, asked the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to approve a base rate increase of approximately $5.88 million to recover costs associated with capital investments and increased operating expenses, raising rates for both residential and commercial users. 
 
Dam operation is in particularly dire need of funding. The ASCE report pointed out that the total budget for Idaho’s dam safety program has been dramatically reduced in recent years, an alarming fact given that the average dam in the State is more than 50 years old.  “With the aging infrastructure, funding and future need becomes increasingly critical,” the report states. “As Idaho’s dams continue to age, the need for infrastructure repairs and replacement is expected to grow…As a result of reduced funding and personnel resources, the current level of state compliance will not  be able to be maintained.”
 
Idaho needs federal funds to help modernize its drinking water and wastewater systems and to improve the safety of its dams. Congressman Simpson has the responsibility to use his leadership position on the Interior and Environment Subcommittee to push for these funds, including increased State Revolving Fund appropriations, for his constituents in the 2nd District and for all residents of Idaho.
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Utah’s 2nd Congressional District:  Aging Water Infrastructure and Growing Population Demand Federal Funds

Utah’s 2nd Congressional District serves Salt Lake City and the largely rural western and southern portions of the State, and is represented by House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee member Chris Stewart.
 
Salt Lake City has experienced its share of the problems that the State’s antiquated water infrastructure has caused in communities all over Utah. The roughly 1,300 miles of piping under Salt Lake City is some of the oldest in the State; as a result, there are about 350 water main breaks on average in the city each year. These breaks have caused untold damage and disruption to residences and businesses. Roads, schools and offices have been closed, and flooding and water service disruptions have become increasingly common in recent years. We reported on the rupture of a large water main on Main Street in Salt Lake City last year; the break sent thousands of gallons of water rushing like a river down the thoroughfare, forcing the closure of Main Street for the day. Representatives of the Salt Lake City Public Works Department attributed the break to aging infrastructure – the line that burst under Main Street was nearly 100 years old. 
 
According to the 2015 Report Card for Utah’s Infrastructure, a significant portion of Utah’s water infrastructure is approaching the end of its intended life.  Much of it was built shortly after World War II as Utah suburbs expanded, and some of it is even older. The State’s buried water and sewer lines are showing signs of tremendous strain, with leaking and broken pipes becoming increasingly widespread. The report card estimates that roughly 200,000 Utah homes were provided with subsurface water and sewer services before 1965; these systems are now 50 years old or older.  Including commercial and industrial users, it is estimated that Utah has nearly $2 billion worth of subsurface water lines that should be scheduled for replacement in the very short term. Given the State’s projected population growth (Utah’s population has tripled since the 1970s and is projected to double by 2050), the public health threat posed by these damaged lines, which can result in water supply contamination, is significant. 
 
Utah’s wastewater treatment is of particular concern, as a large number of the State’s municipal wastewater treatment plants are approaching or have exceeded their expected 30-year useful and efficient operating life. There  is significant deterioration of sewage collection systems that are 60-70 years old and well beyond their expected useful life. Wastewater agencies have not had the funds to keep up with repair and replacement let alone account for changing regulations and population growth. Aging infrastructure has over time translated into declining water quality.
 
In an attempt to prepare for future water use demands, Utah legislators have considered a variety of ways to fund critically needed water projects, including what is known as the Lake Powell Pipeline, which would send water 140 miles from the Colorado River to the State’s southwest corner, at a cost of more than $1 billion. But apparently little progress has been made identifying sources of such funding, and residents are deeply concerned about the State’s aging infrastructure and future water supply. 
 
Utah’s water infrastructure is in dire need of modernization, and the State can only address that need with Federal assistance. Congressman Stewart has an obligation to his constituents and to residents throughout Utah to push for Federal funds, including increased State Revolving Fund appropriations, to upgrade, renew and replace the State’s aging water systems. Especially in light of the State’s rapidly growing population, Federal funds must materialize for Utah now. 
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Oklahoma’s 4th District:  Federal Funding Needed to Ensure Safe Water Supply

Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional District, represented by House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee member Tom Cole and located in the south-central part of the State, is fighting to maintain aging local water systems that have historically relied on state and Federal funding that has dramatically declined in recent years. The district’s small towns in particular have struggled with deteriorating pipes and pumps, limited funding to make critically needed repairs and upgrades, drought conditions, and increasing demands to provide clean water to an expanding customer base.
The city of Chickasha in the 4th District’s Grady County is a good example of the challenges these communities face. The city’s water supply is currently several feet below normal levels as a result of a severe drought, and water line crews have been working for months repairing city water lines broken due to a combination of age and drought. Many of the city’s water lines were laid as long as 80 years ago, making them susceptible to leaks and breaks. Drought conditions have resulted in shifting soil, causing record levels of damage to aging water lines.
Chickasha is just one of many Oklahoma cities and towns confronting aging water infrastructure with diminished funds. Tiny Corn, Oklahoma, for example, was recently highlighted in a report by StateImpact Oklahoma. This small town in Washita County desperately needs a reliable sewer system, but the lagoon holding the town’s wastewater has holes in it. Repairing the lagoon is estimated to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, funds that the town of 503 residents simply does not have. The report quotes Corn Mayor Barbara Nurnberg on the likelihood that the town will be forced to go into debt to fund the repairs, resulting in higher water bills that residents cannot afford. “If we have to raise [water rates] really high to cover our loan costs,” she says, “then people leave town because it’s too expensive to live here…But if you don’t fix the infrastructure we’re dead in the water anyway.”
The small town of McCurtain faces similar struggles. McCurtain needs an estimated $100,000 to build a water purification station to meet increasingly stringent water quality standards. But paying for that station is “nearly impossible,” according to McCurtain’s Mayor, who was also quoted in the StateImpact report. Unfortunately, McCurtain’s problems are common throughout Oklahoma. Currently, over 100 communities and 132 municipal wastewater systems across the State are under consent orders from the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Those orders require local regulators to take steps to improve compliance with federal water quality standards. The need for funds to comply with them is growing while state and Federal appropriations for this purpose have been shrinking. According to the StateImpact report, programs designed to regulate local drinking water and wastewater operations are funded primarily through legislative appropriations that have declined by roughly 30 percent since 2009.
Communities in Oklahoma’s 4th District and all over the State must replace aging sewer lines, improve degraded wastewater treatment facilities, modernize old collection systems, and take other steps to ensure the safety of their residents’ water supplies. But the expense of these steps is a huge burden on small towns, and Representative Cole and his Subcommittee co-members must see to it that these communities have Federal help in shouldering this burden. The desperate need for Federal funds, including State Revolving Fund appropriations, cannot be ignored.
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Ohio’s 14th District: Federal Funds Needed to Combat Serious Contamination Threats

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West Virginia’s 3rd District: Federal Help Needed to Help Face Dire Threat of Contaminated Water

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Minnesota’s 4th District:  Federal Funds Desperately Needed to Replace Aging Water Systems

Minnesota’s 4th Congressional district, represented by House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Betty McCollum and covering Ramsey and Washington counties in the eastern part of the State, includes its share of both small rural towns and sizable cities, all of which suffer from aging and decrepit water infrastructure in critical need of federal funds for modernization.

Rural towns in Washington County such as Afton, for example, are desperate for these funds. Afton, with a population of less than 3,000, is too small to have its own municipal sewer system, so the roughly 100 homes and businesses in the city’s Old Village rely on private septic systems that pose a serious pollution threat. The pollution comes from sewage drain fields that run into a levy along the St. Croix River; when those drain fields flood during heavy rain, the drain fields are overwhelmed with water, causing sewage to flow into the St. Croix. Afton Mayor Richard Bend was recently quoted by local reporter Tim Blotz as saying, “In hot weather, in the summer, what we have instead of beautiful clear water is algae growth and algae bloom as a result of pollution.” Afton is one of many small towns in the rural parts of the 4th district, and one of hundreds of such towns all over the State, with tax bases so small that they struggle to find money to repair or replace their decrepit wastewater, stormwater and drinking water systems. Afton is hoping for State assistance toward the more than $4 million cost of building its own municipal sewer collection system but federal funds would guarantee that project’s completion.

And Minnesota’s cities, including those like St. Paul in the 4th district, are also in dire need. Eighty three percent of the sewers in the Twin Cities, for example, were built more than 50 years ago. And many Minnesota cities, including Roseville in the 4th district, are confronted with the need to spend millions of dollars on replacing aging water meters that are no longer reliable or accurate. About 1,000 residents of Roseville recently discovered that their meters had for years been failing to accurately record their water usage; when the problem was detected, consumers were faced with huge bills that they did not expect. Cities across Minnesota have requested help from the State with 564 water projects estimated to cost up to $1.8 billion during the next five years, and residents of cities like St. Paul have seen water bills increase significantly in recent years to help pay for replacing 100-year old pipes.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton recently unveiled a plan to spend $220 million to modernize the State’s aging water systems, but his plan will need legislative approval, and this money would merely scratch the surface of what is needed to repair and replace long outdated water systems. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently released a report noting that local governments identified the need for more than 1,350 wastewater infrastructure projects, costing  $4.2 billion. The EPA’s periodic Needs Survey and Assessment  estimates water infrastructure project needs of more than $11 billion for Minnesota over the next two decades.

Minnesota, in its 4th district and beyond, needs federal funds to help its cities and towns repair and replace their crumbling water infrastructure, and Congressman McCollum must do her part as Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee to push for increasing State Revolving Fund appropriations to help meet these needs.

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California’s 42nd District:  Federal Funds Are Needed Now to Address Water Infrastructure Neglect and Drought Conditions

California has never been more desperate for federal funds to build water infrastructure, and the State’s 42nd district, represented by House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert, is no exception. Located in southern California and including parts of western Riverside County, portions of this district have struggled for years with an unreliable and at times unsafe water supply. In one community bordering Wildomar and Menifee, for example, the water supply had for more than a decade contained unhealthy nitrate levels. Years ago, State health officials advised residents against consuming the water because of dangerous levels of impurities, and in 2012 County Water of Riverside (CWR), a privately owned water company then serving the roughly 140 homes in this underprivileged section of northeastern Wildomar, missed a California Department of Public Health deadline to remedy the unsafe drinking water situation. CWR’s well was in such a state of disrepair that the water drawn from it contained more than twice the legal level of nitrates, rendering it unsafe for consumption or use. Residents at the time stated that “most of the time, the water looks like milk.” Municipal authorities had long been aware of the problem, but as one official was then quoted as saying, “We need to get the government entities together. We’r​e not trying to send someone to the moon. The big question is, ‘Who will pay?’”

The good news is that after years of subjecting residents to unsafe water, the well company’s owners finally agreed to relinquish control, allowing two districts – with the help of local government officials – to take control of the area and begin work on new water lines to service the community. The State of California, alerted to the problem through the involvement of State health officials monitoring the contamination levels, provided critical funding. Now those water districts are extending new systems to the affected households, with Eastern Municipal Water District laying pipes to serve about 35 households on the Menifee side of the community, and the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District extending service to about 115 households on the Wildomar side.

This remedy would not have been possible without the nearly $6 million in financing provided by the State of California, but State funding is simply not a reliable solution in a state like California, which ranks first among all states in the EPA’s survey of identified water infrastructure needs (see below) and which faces historically persistent drought conditions. The state solution, while it addressed the acute, short term crisis in Wildomar, was ultimately insufficient because it failed to address the long term problems posed by California’s neglected water infrastructure and drought.

California has its hands full with drought-related issues. The Department of Water Resources recently stated, for example, that as a result of the historic drought, public water agencies serving residents of the State might only receive 10 percent of expected supplies in 2016, half the amount that flowed to them in 2015 through the state’s system of reservoirs and canals. In 2015, State water customers received 20 percent of their contracted amounts, and State officials say they hope the 2016 allocation will increase as rain and snow fall. But they also considered the possibility that drought could drag on another year. A variety of infrastructure projects could help Californians cope with drought conditions, including construction of desalination plants, water system facility improvements, greater surface and groundwater storage, water recycling and water treatment technology, improvements in water supply management and conveyance systems, and repair and replacement of emergency water supply systems. But these public works projects are enormously expensive, and the State simply cannot cope with the costs of completing these kinds of projects and helping local communities like Wildomar repair and replace outdated infrastructure posing health risks to residents. Federal assistance, including State Revolving Fund (SRF) appropriations, must increase now to ensure that residents like those in California’s 42nd District are protected not only from drought-related water scarcity, but the dangers of contaminated water from aging infrastructure.

State SRF allotments are determined based on the EPA’s periodic Needs Survey and Assessment, in which individual states’ water systems estimate their capital costs for all water infrastructure projects eligible to be included in the Survey; these include projects needed currently and those needed over the next 20 years. California receives the largest allocation of SRFs of all states. In the most recent Drinking Water SRF allotments, for example (based on the 2011 Needs Assessment), California had more than 9 percent of all allocations, nearly twice the next largest allocation (New York), illustrating that California’s water infrastructure needs are demonstrable and enormous. The crisis in Wildomar is just one example of situations arising all over California, including Congressman Calvert’s 42nd District. SRF appropriations must be increased to help fund the construction of new service lines to California communities whose water systems are in desperate need of repair and replacement. The need to protect Californians against contaminated water is a critical one, and Congressman Calvert’s Subcommittee must act to meet this need by increasing SRF appropriations.

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CWC, Armed with CRS report, Takes on Water Infrastructure Financing  

On February 18th, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a report discussing six policy options for addressing the financing needs of local wastewater and drinking water infrastructure projects. These policy options are intended to reverse the growing gap between available financing tools and project needs by creating new or more effective financing mechanisms. The report supports the same priorities and the same objective the CWC has been advocating since inception:  that there is a growing need to address America’s water infrastructure.

We bring you today’s post in an attempt to provide viable options that will make a meaningful impact on our infrastructure. In the weeks to come, you will read about water infrastructure failures from several states who have elected officials sitting on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. These committees are responsible for developing the specific funding levels for the federal government, specifically EPA’s State Revolving Fund program, which (as you will read below) CRS suggests should be funded at higher levels. As Congress begins formulating the federal budget, CWC intends to showcase how the current approach to financing infrastructure is insufficient. Increasing funding for the State Revolving Funds (SRFs), and the other policy options CRS suggests, would measurably benefit every American by ensuring access to clean and reliable water, creating jobs, strengthening the economy, and protecting America’s health and safety. We hope that by highlighting infrastructure needs in Appropriations Committee members’ back yards, we will ensure that they will no longer be able to continue turning a blind eye to the infrastructure needs of the country.

The CRS Report suggests:

.               Increasing funding for the SRF programs in the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. The SRF programs, which formulaically distribute appropriate dollars to states for low-interest loans and grants for water infrastructure projects, are the primary source of federal funding for water infrastructure improvements.

.               Moving ahead with the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) which was authorized in 2014. The WIFIA pilot program is authorized to grant secured loans or loan guarantees for drinking water and wastewater projects as well as water resource projects. We have closely monitored the flow of funds under WIFIA and will continue to do so. We were successful, for example, in our lobbying for a repeal of the ban on using tax-exempt bonds to finance WIFIA projects, as Congress included in the recently passed transportation funding law a provision lifting that ban, releasing the flow of critically needed federal funds for infrastructure projects.

.               Creating a federal water infrastructure trust fund/establishing a national infrastructure bank. The trust fund discussed in the CRS report would be modeled after the highway trust fund, and would have the advantage of not being subject to annual appropriations as the SRF programs are; rather, it would be supported by dedicated revenues designed to provide sustainable and long-term financing. The national infrastructure bank would be set up by the federal government to provide credit assistance, including low interest rates and long maturities, thereby encouraging investment in large, expensive infrastructure projects that might otherwise not take place.

.               Lifting private activity bond (PAB) restrictions on water infrastructure projects. Currently, the IRS restricts the amount, in dollars, of private activity bonds a state may utilize. This requires water projects to compete with more visible, more politically appealing projects. If the volume cap were to be lifted for water and wastewater projects, PABs could be more readily used to finance infrastructure.

.               Reinstating authority for the issuance of Build America Bonds (BABs). These financing mechanisms are taxable bonds in which the U.S. Treasury subsidizes the interest costs to the issuer (a state or local government), thereby helping finance capital projects with lower borrowing costs. The authority to issue BABs expired in 2010.

The Clean Water Council has a long history of supporting each of CRS’s proposed policy changes. We have lobbied and taken action in support of each of these policy shifts and will continue to do so. Over the next couple of months, we will take targeted looks at specific Congressional districts in pursuit of increasing the SRF appropriation. We intend to illustrate how funding sources such as SRFs have a direct, positive impact on residents’ lives and how funding shortages threaten those peoples’ health, security and livelihoods.

 

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