WIFIA Moves Closer to Passage And Key Groups Call Attention to Value of Water

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By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) moved closer to passage in October, even though it was omitted from a key House of Representatives bill.

When the Senate passed its multi-billion dollar Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) reauthorization bill earlier this year, it had included a WIFIA chapter (see July column).

WRDA authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop, maintain and support port and waterways infrastructure, plus targeted flood protection and environmental restoration needs. Historically, Congress has passed water projects legislation every two years. But no bill has been signed into law since 2007.

WIFIA would establish a five-year, $50 million pilot program allowing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Corps of Engineers to both offer low-interest loans for water and wastewater infrastructure projects costing at least $20 million (or $5 million for water systems serving 25,000 or fewer people). The demonstration program would be separate from the state revolving fund framework for water lending.

The American Water Works Association (AWWA), the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) and the Water Environment Federation (WEF) have worked for WIFIA passage.

In September, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee easily passed its version of WRDA, called the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA). Passage by the full House of Representatives was expected this fall.

Although the House bill did not include a WIFIA chapter, its inclusion in the Senate bill ensured that the subject would be on the table when a House-Senate conference committee meets to compromise on a final WRDA bill.

House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) also was considering introducing a separate WIFIA bill.

Separately, AWWA, AMWA and WEF responded to concerns that WIFIA might undermine future appropriations for the Drinking Water and Clean Water state revolving funds (SRFs).

In a letter to key senators, the groups stressed that WIFIA would complement, not compete with, the SRFs. They explained that WIFIA would not interfere with the states' administration of SRF funds, but instead would create an additional funding source for large infrastructure projects that otherwise would be unlikely to receive SRF funding.

Publicizing the Value of Water

To drive public awareness of water as an essential resource, several public and private groups recently launched the Value of Water Coalition.

The coalition said, "The delivery of clean drinking water and the reliable treatment of wastewater are essential for every aspect of our daily lives, homes, workplaces, and schools. However, communities across the U.S. are relying on aging water infrastructure in need of repair or replacement. It is estimated that there is one water main break every two minutes in the United States and that the nation must invest $1.3 trillion in repairs and upgrades over the next 25 years. Yet the majority of adults incorrectly believe our water infrastructure is in good condition."

Eileen O'Neill, acting executive director of WEF, said, "While a majority of Americans believe clean water is of vital importance to the nation, just 40 percent of Americans think the same of water infrastructure, showing the clear disconnect this campaign aims to fix."

Ken Kirk, executive director of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), said, "As the water sector continues to innovate and ensure its resiliency, so too are we looking to be innovative in the ways we communicate about how our work supports communities across the country."

The coalition will distribute news and information on water- related issues through social channels, videos, infographics, and Slideshare decks.

David LaFrance, AWWA executive director, said, "This unprecedented effort by such a diverse group of organizations representing the public and private sectors, drinking water and clean water, really highlights the importance of addressing the challenges facing the U.S."

Coalition members include AWWA, AMWA, CH2M HILL, MWH Global, NACWA, the National Association of Water Companies, United Water, the U.S. Water Alliance, Veolia Water, WEF, and Xylem Inc.

About the Author: Patrick Crow covered the U.S. Congress and federal agencies for 21 years as a reporter for industry magazines. He has reported on water issues for the past 15 years. Crow is now a Houston, Texas-based freelance writer.

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