State Approaches to Water Infrastructure Challenges

For the last couple of weeks of 2015 we are highlighting the water infrastructure issues faced by local communities in a variety of states; we think these state stories vividly illustrate the challenges that localities all over the United States are confronting in an era of aging infrastructure and declining federal assistance, and how some state and local governments are working to address them.

New Mexico

Community water systems throughout the state of New Mexico have struggled over the last several years as the state has suffered through a historically severe drought. Officials in localities across the state have sought help from the state government to avert a crisis, as water levels have dropped, aging infrastructure has been taxed and federal funding has grown more scarce. In 2013 the state identified nearly 300 drinking water systems considered particularly vulnerable; as drought conditions put pressure on supply, small communities in particular see their water systems fail, threatening the health, security and economies of those communities.

In response, Governor Susana Martinez recently proposed a $112 million capital investment in New Mexico’s water infrastructure, amounting to approximately 60 percent of the capital outlay funding that will be available when the New Mexico Legislature convenes in January. Governor Martinez’s proposal prioritizes water investments in communities that are in danger of going dry, or are struggling with poor water quality, as well as water projects such as watershed and dam rehabilitation.

“Unprecedented drought, wildfires, and floods have put further stress on New Mexico’s aging water infrastructure, in communities large and small across the state. We have seen communities run out of water and our watersheds terribly damaged, and the threat of water shortage looms for many other communities across New Mexico,” said Governor Martinez in proposing the investment. Governor Martinez pledged to work with local governments, state agencies, legislators, and others to identify critical water infrastructure projects throughout the state. The New Mexico Drought Task Force is also working to identify communities with the most pressing water quantity and quality needs.

Matthew Holmes of the New Mexico Rural Water Association praised Governor Martinez’s proposal, saying, “Governor Martinez’s proposal is exactly what New Mexico needs to address both current and future water shortages and infrastructure problems. Communities across our state are running dangerously close to exhausting water supplies; dams, pipes, wells, and other infrastructure are in disrepair or dangerously obsolete. These funds are crucial to protecting our state’s water supply and providing the basic security our families, communities, and businesses so desperately need.”


The State of Arizona faces a critical need to replace and rehabilitate wastewater facilities that are nearing or past the end of their expected useful life. Although a relatively young state, many portions of Arizona’s wastewater systems are 50 years old or more. In particular, pipelines in the state’s wastewater collection systems are deteriorating due to age and to corrosion caused by hydrogen sulfide, a particular problem in Arizona given the state’s warm climate. The past decade has seen a large number of sewer collapses or breaks due to structural failure of the pipes themselves, which in some cases have been completely eaten away by corrosion. Many of the largest sewers in the metropolitan Phoenix and Tucson areas were constructed as early as the 1950s. According to a recent “report card” issued by the America Society of Civil Engineers, a  major failure of one of these pipelines could disrupt wastewater service to tens of thousands of Arizona residents.

The repair and reinforcement of these facilities will require more funding than the state’s utilities have at their disposal. Especially in smaller communities, financial resources are simply not available to repair and replace deteriorating wastewater collection systems. The revenues and budgets of many local utilities throughout the state declined dramatically during the 2008 economic downturn, and as a result many were forced to put off critically needed maintenance on their systems.

Recent funding initiatives represent attempts to address this critical funding need. The state’s Water Infrastructure Finance Authority recently announced, for example, a $14 million loan for the city of Peoria to improve water pressure and provide a more sustainable water system for residents. With the loan proceeds, Peoria will be able to begin a series of upgrades to its water system, which serves approximately 11,000 people, improving water pressure and system reliability. And last week WIFA announced a loan for the Clear Springs Utility Company, which will use the money to make needed repairs to its deteriorating water system. Clear Springs Utility Company, a privately-owned water company located in Cochise County, serves approximately 1,200 people near Pearce, Arizona.

We at CWC are pleased to report on these state funding initiatives and applaud the New Mexico and Arizona officials who recognize the need to devote resources to protecting public health and environmental quality through financial assistance for water and wastewater infrastructure. We wish the Federal government would do more along these lines, and we will keep pushing to heighten awareness and action at the Federal level.


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Happy Thanksgiving from CWC!

CWC wishes you the very best for a healthy and happy Thanksgiving holiday. Savor the time with family and friends, and keep in mind the role that clean water plays in our daily lives!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

EPA Offering New Quarterly E-mail Newsletter on Water Infrastructure Financing

The EPA is developing a new quarterly email newsletter, called Water Finance E-News,  that will provide updates for those seeking and providing funding for public water projects.
The newsletter will report on program developments, training, and tools from the following programs:
·         EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund
·         Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center
·         Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act Program
·         Clean Water Indian Set-Aside
·         Alaska Native Villages and Rural Communities Grant Program
·         U.S.-Mexico Border Water Infrastructure Program
Click here to sign up for the newsletter.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

USDA Provides $314 Million in Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Improvements for Rural Communities

In a rare and welcome piece of good news on the water infrastructure financing front, last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced loans and grants for 141 projects to build and improve water and wastewater infrastructure in rural communities across the country.

In announcing the financing the USDA acknowledged that rural communities face a critical need to upgrade and repair their water and wastewater systems, but often lack the resources to do so. USDA is awarding $299 million for 88 projects in the Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program and $15 million for 53 grants in the Emergency Community Water Assistance Grant (ECWAG) program.

ECWAG grants enable water systems that serve eligible rural communities to prepare for, or recover from, imminent or actual emergencies that threaten the availability of safe drinking water. Water and Waste program recipients can use funds to construct water and waste facilities in rural communities.

Rural communities in a total of 38 states will receive grants and/or loans for a wide variety of projects, including drilling new wells, upgrading storage tanks and other equipment, and rebuilding and repairing drinking water treatment facilities. For the specific details of the grants, click here. For a list of recipients and amounts awarded, click here.

​CWC applauds the USDA’s action and appreciates the agency’s efforts to help provide desperately needed improvements in water and wastewater services to the millions of residents living in America’s rural communities. But as we have reported before, rural communities are not alone in their critical water infrastructure needs; towns and cities all over the country are suffering from the same problems, and a larger and more active federal government financing role is called for in all of our nation’s communities – rural, suburban and urban alike.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Recommended Reading on Our Nation’s Failing Water Infrastructure

We are using this week’s post to highlight a recent article by AP’s Ryan Foley detailing the water infrastructure crisis developing in cities across the U.S.

Foley explains how after decades of keeping water rates low and putting off repairs and maintenance, World War II-era drinking water systems all over the country are in desperate need of replacement. The costs of necessary repairs and replacement are staggering (we have reported before on the EPA’s estimate of $384 billion over the next two decades to maintain the nation’s existing water systems) and as Foley points out, the costs of inaction are increasingly evident in communities nationwide.

Foley focuses on Des Moines, Iowa and its water system, Des Moines Water Works (DMWW), which serves roughly a half million residents with water cleansed of harmful nitrates that come from the state’s extensive farmland. He explains that after decades of service, DMWW is facing a variety of intractable problems:  water mains are breaking hundreds of times annually, rivers are polluted, and the city can’t afford the $150 million cost of replacing a treatment plant that was built in the 1940s. A particular challenge for the utility has been nitrate levels that far exceed the federal standard for safety in the two rivers that provide DMWW’s source water. Cleansing the city’s water of these nitrates is an extremely costly process, and even if the city could come up with the funds to build a nitrate removal plant to replace its current outdated technology, that would leave less money available to replace the area’s aging and failing pipes.

Local communities all over the country are confronting the same type of crisis that Foley describes facing Des Moines. Funds are desperately needed to replace crumbling pipes and other infrastructure – sometimes more than a century old – and declining federal investment in this area has left local governments on their own and unable to pay for upgrades. And as Foley points out, unlike failing roads and bridges, deteriorating water systems are buried, so they often go unnoticed until they fail. And when they fail (which they do with alarming frequency; an estimated 700 water main breaks occur every day in the U.S.), the impact on residents’ health and safety and the disruption in their daily lives is enormous. We at CWC have chronicled the devastation wrought by water infrastructure failures – sickness from contaminated water, interruptions in service, schools, roads, and businesses forced to close, for example – in towns all over the country.

Foley cites the more than million miles of  underground pipes that distribute water to homes in the U.S., and how properly maintaining that network remains the largest  and costliest long-term concern. But as he writes, pipes represent just one of the many types of infrastructure that desperately need investment. Des Moines is not unique in its need for a new water treatment plant, for example. Many localities are served by plants built nearly 100 years ago and face replacement costs of tens of millions of dollars. And as we have written before, population declines and conservation have drained local government water usage revenues, leaving cities and towns with depleted resources at a time when infrastructure demands are at crisis levels.

All of these pressures are dramatically illustrated by the situation in Des Moines, as Foley details. But sadly, Des Moines is not alone. We at CWC are pushing hard for a larger and more active federal financing role to help communities like Des Moines experiencing crisis levels of water infrastructure decay.

Click here to read the AP piece in full.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Help Us Persuade Congress to Release Critically Needed WIFIA Funds by Repealing the Ban on the Use of Tax-Exempt Bonds

On October 22 the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee approved the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 3763) by voice vote. Unfortunately, H.R. 3763 did not include a Senate provision that is critical to releasing the flow of federal funds to desperately needed water infrastructure projects under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA).
As we discussed in our September 9 post, the Senate version of the Highway Trust Fund reauthorization includes a provision repealing a pointless and damaging ban on the use of tax-exempt bonds to co-finance WIFIA projects. This ban undermines WIFIA’s potential to attract needed investments, because tax-exempt bonds are the most cost-effective source of the required non-WIFIA share of project costs. The ban artificially inflates the cost of using WIFIA by requiring project sponsors to reply on more costly co-finance options like taxable debt. The Senate HTF bill wisely addresses the need to remove this prohibition and allow WIFIA funds to flow freely, and the House must now do the same.
We at CWC will be working to persuade Congress to include the repeal in the final reauthorization legislation that emerges from House-Senate conference negotiations, and we encourage you to help us out. Last week Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fl) introduced H.R. 3756, the WIFIA Improvement Act, repealing the ban. We urge you to contact your Representative urging him or her to support this legislation, or to otherwise ensure that a repeal of the ban is included in any HTF action that Congress takes. Click here for a sample letter making this important case. 
We report weekly here on local communities’ staggering need for water infrastructure project funds (by some estimates the U.S. needs nearly $2 trillion over the next 25 years to restore our crumbling drinking water and wastewater systems) so we are acutely aware of the need to do away with a needless impediment to the flow of those funds. Join us in making Congress aware of that need as well!
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sixth Circuit Puts WOTUS Rule on Hold

CWC is pleased to report on last week’s ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issuing a nationwide stay on the so-called “WOTUS” rule.” Under that rule the EPA and the United States Army Corps of Engineers expanded the definition of the “waters of the United States” which are subject to federal regulation under the Clean Water Act (CWA), with potentially significant and controversial results for the manufacturing, agriculture, development, oil and gas recovery, and utility industries. The WOTUS rule had already been stayed in 13 states, and many challenges against the rule are pending in courts around the country.

In its decision the Sixth Circuit put the WOTUS rule on hold until the question of whether the court actually has jurisdiction to determine the rule’s validity is answered. (The question of which court has jurisdiction over this question arises from particular language in the CWA, which states that certain types of rules promulgated under the statute are to be reviewed in the U.S. Courts of Appeals, while others are subject to review in the U.S. District Courts.)

In granting the stay, the Sixth Circuit panel found that the coalition of 18 states challenging the WOTUS rule had demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success in proving that the rule is invalid based primarily on their arguments that (1) the rule’s definition of “waters of the United States” is at odds with a pertinent U.S. Supreme Court definition set forth in a 2006 case, and (2) the process by which the WOTUS rule was finalized was “facially suspect,” because the public was not given adequate notice of some of the rule’s provisions in the proposed rule.

The panel’s majority concluded that there were good reasons to suspend the rule’s implementation pending resolution of the jurisdictional question, citing specifically the burden – on both government and private individuals – of the rule’s “effective redrawing of jurisdictional lines over certain of the nation’s waters.” While acknowledging the uncertainty surrounding various interpretations of the “waters of the United States” definition and the need for clarification, the Court indicated that “the sheer breadth” of the WOTUS rule’s ripple effects called for maintaining the status quo for the time being. This finding makes it likely, though there is no guarantee, that if the Sixth Circuit ultimately decides that it has jurisdiction over the case, it will ultimately invalidate the WOTUS rule.

As a practical matter, the Sixth Circuit’s ruling means that the pre-WOTUS “waters of the United States” definition remains in effect for now, but the Court said that it expects the jurisdictional question to be decided in a matter of weeks, so stay tuned. We will keep you updated on this and other developments affecting federal regulation of our nation’s waters.

Read the Sixth Circuit stay here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Failing Water Systems Exacerbated South Carolina Flooding  

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

States Considering Water Issues Among Most Pressing, Cont.

This week we conclude our review of the states that identified water topics at the top of their lists of issues most important to voters in 2015, according to the recently issued second edition of CQ Roll Call’s 50 State Project.

West Virginia – Water, sewer, and power systems were ranked in the top five issues that got the most attention in the West Virginia legislature this year. Antiquated water infrastructure in many parts of the state resulted in service disruptions and higher rates as water utilities attempted to upgrade aging systems. In recent months, the Charleston area, for example, lost water service repeatedly due to broken water mains, and businesses, schools, and government offices around the state have been forced to close as a result of infrastructure failures. A recent AP story highlighted one Charleston manufacturing business that loses between $5,000 and $15,000 a day every time water is shut off because of a water main break, and by one estimate the state needs more than $1 billion in drinking water infrastructure improvements, such as the replacement of crumbling pipes. The AP story points out that as crumbling drinking water infrastructure causes increasingly frequent water main breaks and boil water advisories, some West Virginians are now pushing for a public takeover of the region’s water system. We have written about the 2014 Elk River chemical spill that contaminated the drinking water for 300,000 West Virginia residents for days. That incident heightened residents’ awareness of the state’s significant water problems, raising the profile of water infrastructure problems among the state’s most pressing issues in 2015.

Washington – Washington ranked water issues fourth in its list of legislative issues capturing the most attention in 2015. In May, the Governor declared a statewide drought emergency as a result of low snowpack, low river flows and irrigation water shortages, and the Washington Department of Agriculture has warned that drought conditions could result in more than $1 billion in crop losses this year. Washington’s most recent infrastructure report card gave drinking water systems a grade of C-, and the State estimates $9.5 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs over the next 20 years and $5.3 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs over that period. The state’s smaller water systems face particularly serious problems, since they lack the customer base and financial wherewithal to support regular maintenance and upgrades. Walla Walla is just one example of an area with aging systems in critical need of repair. The Walla Walla systems are reportedly losing 33% of their water to pipe leaks, and their unfiltered surface supply does not meet current water quality standards.

Puerto Rico – Puerto Rico listed water second among its highest priority legislative issues this year, primarily due to the major drought gripping the island, which has necessitated rationing and a system of fines for over-usage of water. Several cities faced rationing and multi-day water shutoffs after severe droughts on the island forced Governor Padilla to declare a state of emergency in May. The Governor is reported to have said that the crisis could have been avoided if only there had been enough funds to build a new reservoir and other necessary infrastructure on the Valenciano River. Several reservoirs in the Commonwealth are considered in critical condition, but funds for improvements are scarce. As Luis Davila, a lawyer and political analyst recently told the PanAm Post in a report on the drought, a lack of infrastructure investment is responsible for the rationing and system of fines. “No money has been spent on the necessary infrastructure,” he said, “because the government is broke.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

States Citing High Priority of Water Issues, Cont.  

This week we’re continuing our review of the states that identified water topics at the top of their lists of issues most important to voters in 2015, according to the recently issued second edition of CQ Roll Call’s 50 State Project. As we mentioned last week, the report contains a comprehensive listing and analysis of the issues that got the most attention in state legislatures in 2015, based on extensive interviews with local reporters about their coverage of state legislative sessions earlier this year.
Vermont – Lawmakers in Vermont took significant action to address water quality in 2015. The legislature wrote new regulations for farms, commercial developments, and homeowners in an attempt to reduce the impact of agricultural and storm runoff on water quality. But even as state officials direct new money and resources to water quality efforts across the state, Vermont communities are struggling with crumbling pipes and other water infrastructure that is more than a century old. The state was forced to contend with a rash of water main breaks during last winter’s brutal cold, with some water system officials saying they were facing the worst water main problems in 15 years. And as recently reported by Vermont Public Radio, 130 year-old pipes are causing major problems, but officials don’t have the resources to replace them. The story cited a sewage leak that took place in Rutland in early August, causing a plume of sewage that ran for miles down the city’s East Creek. The leak was caused by a pipe attempted to be sealed off in the 1970s; the seal failed and sewage slowly made its way into the closed pipe. According to Rutland’s Commissioner of Public Works Jeff Wennberg, some of the pipes that carry drinking water to Vermont homes and businesses were installed before Abraham Lincoln was elected, and even newer ones are failing. The report makes clear that Rutland isn’t alone, and that Vermont residents are suffering from aging infrastructure across the state. The state’s combined sewer systems (designed to collect both sewage and stormwater) are also old and crumbling, causing raw sewage to be dumped into streams when overwhelmed by stormwater. Communities throughout the state have experienced this type of contamination but lack the funds to address the problem. It is no wonder that water infrastructure was cited among Vermont’s top five most pressing issues in 2015.
Montana – For the second consecutive year, the Montana state legislature and Governor failed to agree on a bill to fund water, sewer, and road projects, disappointing residents in desperate need of infrastructure projects to address inadequate water and sewer grids in the eastern part of the state. The state has over 5,300 miles of water distribution and transmission piping, and roughly 700 public water systems, more than 20% of which are reportedly out of compliance with monitoring and other regulatory requirements. Some systems have piping dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, and most experience major leaks several times a year. The state also has approximately 180 public wastewater treatment systems, and one in five of those are under formal enforcement actions to correct system deficiencies. Montana’s most recent infrastructure report card gave drinking water systems a grade of C-, and wastewater systems a grade of D+. The state has identified $822 million in drinking water infrastructure needs over the next 20 years, and $587 million in wastewater infrastructure needs over that period. As a result, Montana cited infrastructure and water issues third among the issues garnering the most attention in 2015.
Texas – Texas has experienced booming growth in recent years (estimated at roughly 2 million people in the last four years), increasing the strain on water infrastructure needs. And historically hot and dry conditions in the last several years have drained water supplies and emptied reservoirs in many areas, so new water supply projects are desperately needed. Of the state’s growth-propelled infrastructure challenges, water is considered the most pressing. In 2013 Texas voters approved a $2 billion state water bond to help defray the borrowing costs on large-scale water infrastructure projects, including creating reservoirs, laying new pipelines, and replacing older ones, but the state estimates that it will still need a total of $53 billion to implement plans to meet water needs for the next 50 years. Accordingly, Texas ranked infrastructure and water in the top three of the state’s most high profile issues this year.
Utah – According to the CQ Roll Call report, demographers forecast the population in Utah to double to 5.4 million residents by 2050. In an attempt to prepare for future water use demands, legislators considered a variety of ways to pump funding into ambitious new water projects, including a controversial Lake Powell Pipeline, which would send water 140 miles from the Colorado River to the state’s southwest corner, at a cost of at least $1 billion. But little progress was made in identifying sources of such funding, exposing concerns about residents’ future water supply and the state’s aging infrastructure. As a result, water was ranked fourth among the state’s most prominent issues in 2015.
EPA Conducting Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey
The EPA is conducting its sixth national survey of drinking water systems’ capital investment needs. These surveys, conducted every four years, collect data from water systems eligible to receive Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) funds regarding their 20-year capital improvement needs. Data from the surveys are used to develop formulas used by Congress to allot SRF grants to each state based on their identified needs. To visit the 2015 Needs Survey website for more information, click here.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment