Congress Advances Key Water Infrastructure Legislation

The Senate recently passed S. 2848, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). This bill takes much-needed steps to advance several of APA's priorities, including water infrastructure investment and resilience efforts.

Along with authorizing numerous water infrastructure projects carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Senate's bill includes several provisions to improve drinking water quality and resilience around the country. Importantly, it makes the planning and design phase of drinking water projects eligible for state revolving fund loans.

The Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) provide low-cost financing to communities for infrastructure projects that improve water quality. Sound planning ensures a wide array of community factors are taken into consideration in the project development stage. This ensures such projects provide maximum benefit to the communities these projects serve.

By making planning and design eligible for state revolving fund loans, Congress is recognizing the importance of this step in effective and efficient drinking water project development.

Unfortunately, however, the version of WRDA that passed the Senate did not include substantial funding authorization increases for the CWSRF and the DWSRF.

Recent levels of investment in these funds have been insufficient in meeting the demands posed by aging infrastructure and increasing demand, as exemplified by the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan. In his FUND Water Act (S. 2583), Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has proposed increasing CWSRF and DWSRF funding authorization levels to better meet communities' needs. APA hopes those levels can be included in a final package conferenced between the House and Senate.

While it doesn't adequately address the need for increased investment in the CWSRF and the DWSRF, S. 2848 does excitingly include language to strengthen the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), authorizing $70 million for the program.

WIFIA, originally created as a pilot program in the 2014 Water Resources Reform and Development Act, is a mechanism through which the federal government can provide low interest rate financing for water and wastewater projects that are larger and more costly than those that qualify for CWSRF or DWSRF loans.

WIFIA financing is meant to complement the state revolving funds, thereby increasing overall investment in water infrastructure projects on the federal level and providing initial financing for large projects where cost has been entirely prohibitive in the past.

In addition to provisions regarding water infrastructure investment, WRDA takes key steps to promote resiliency. It directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to support and assist water management projects that strive to incorporate green infrastructure, which has proven highly effective at diminishing water pollution and protecting water resources.

By emphasizing the importance of incorporating green infrastructure into water management projects, Congress is supporting healthier communities and a more resilient environment that will be able to better withstand future disasters.

Just before leaving Washington to campaign ahead of the elections, the House passed its version of WRDA (H.R. 5303). The House version unfortunately does not include any of the water infrastructure and resilience reforms APA supports in the Senate version. Legislators in both chambers will now meet in a conference committee in an effort to reconcile the differences between the two bills before the end of the 114th Congress.

The majority of conference negotiations over WRDA will likely take place during the lame duck session following the elections. APA is pushing for a final package that includes vital provisions from the Senate version that improve the quality of water infrastructure and the resilience of American communities.

About the Author

Kirsten Holland is policy associate at Advocacy Associates.

Top image: Pipes for a water treatment plant. Photo by Flickr user Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District (CC BY-ND 2.0).

September 30, 2016

By Kirsten Holland