Across the country, communities’ needs for capital continue to grow as they rise to meet challenges like water system development and renewal, regulatory compliance, changing weather patterns, and the increasing costs of day-to-day utility operations. A big resurgence in federal spending is unlikely in the foreseeable future, so revenue from ratepayers will continue to be the driving force in water infrastructure investment. The wider issue of maintaining the funding programs we have that work, understanding the full cost of service and what that means for funding, and finding money through best practices are the guiding ideas behind the third policy brief in the One Water for America Policy Framework: Sustain Adequate Funding for Water Infrastructure.
The US Water Alliance hosted the third webinar in a seven-part series and brought together representatives from local, state, and federal perspectives on water infrastructure challenges. Cynthia Pratt, Deputy Mayor and Peter Brooks, Water Resources Manager, from Lacey Washington joined Francine Durso, Senior Project Manager from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, and Nathan Gardner-Andrews, Chief Advocacy Officer from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies.
Deputy Mayor Pratt and Peter explained the difficulties facing smaller cities like Lacey, where the local investment need can be staggering. Cities finance most of their own infrastructure through municipal bonds, but there’s still a significant infrastructure funding gap and a great need for a federal partnership. The Deputy Mayor also highlighted several of the gaps cities large and small face in their ability to creatively finance and deliver infrastructure.
On the state level, North Carolina is taking a creative approach to managing their infrastructure by creating a State Water Infrastructure Authority to assess the state’s water and wastewater infrastructure needs, the role of the state in funding needed infrastructure, and the funding programs currently available to local governments and utilities. This plan also includes a set of criteria outlining elements of affordability to address equity concerns in the state.
Federally, there are three legacy water infrastructure funding programs: the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs), Water Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act loans (WIFIA loans), and tax-exempt municipal bonds. Nathan explained the need to protect and expand these current water infrastructure programs. He further detailed how reauthorizing WIFIA would extend and increase the federal funding levels available for loans and potentially push the US Army Corps WIFIA program to be administered by EPA. There is also congressional discussion of creating a Low Income Water Assistance Program similar to the existing LIHEAP program that provides energy bill assistance to low-income households. And coming soon will be the President’s infrastructure plan, which could kick-start further infrastructure conversations in Congress.
The US Water Alliance worked with more than 40 partner organizations to host 15 One Water for America Listening Sessions. These discussions, which took place all across the country, engaged more than 500 leaders inside and outside the water sector. What we heard from these diverse stakeholders was truly inspiring. Across the nation, people from all walks of life are working to advance sustainable water management. The insights from the Listening Sessions have been synthesized into seven big ideas for the sustainable management of water. Together we are calling these ideas and policy solutions the One Water for America Policy Framework.