Congress Considers Additional Funding for Water

Feb. 1, 2010
The Senate was expected to consider a bill early in 2010 that would add $1 billion each for the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs).

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

The Senate was expected to consider a bill early in 2010 that would add $1 billion each for the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs). The House of Representatives narrowly passed the $39 billion bill "Jobs for Main Street Act" (H.R. 2847), in December. The vote was 217-212.

The SRF provisions would waive the requirement that states provide matching funds for eligible water infrastructure projects. The bill directs states to use at least half of their funding share for loan forgiveness and 20% for "green infrastructure" projects.

States would prioritize projects that could begin construction within 12 months. Funds not committed within 8 months of the bill's enactment would revert to the federal government.

The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies supported the funding of drinking and wastewater infrastructure on an equal basis. It said under the February 2009 economic stimulus bill, large drinking water utilities (serving more than 100,000 people) received only 16% of the funds though they serve 46% of the U.S. population and represent 35% of the long-term drinking water infrastructure need.

The House-passed bill also would subject new water infrastructure projects to "Buy American" requirements that limit the use of foreign-made materials and equipment.

The Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA) urged the Senate to drop that requirement. It was among 28 groups arguing that the "Buy American" provision could be counterproductive.

They said, "The vast majority of major inputs into drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects is already American-made, including pipe and structural steel. This market, however, also depends on incorporating numerous specialized pieces of equipment, a significant portion of which is produced through international production and supply chains."

They said the slow pace of drinking water and wastewater spending under the 2009 jobs bill was "largely due to delays, concerns and confusion relating to 'Buy American' rules."

Meanwhile, the Alliance for Water Efficiency was one of 16 groups to urge President Barack Obama to seek more emphasis on water efficiency projects in economic stimulus bills.

They said legislation should include plumbing and irrigation efficiency retrofits, which would create near-term jobs while saving consumers money, conserving water, reducing energy consumption, and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

EPA Enforcement

EPA has elaborated on its refocused enforcement and compliance program for water systems, which took effect Jan. 1.

Assistant Administrator for Water Peter Silva and Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Cynthia Giles testified at a recent Senate Environment and Public Works Committee oversight hearing. They said EPA would concentrate enforcement activities on water systems with the most serious or repeated violations in all contaminant categories.

They said the new approach would permit EPA to resolve underlying compliance problems at entire water systems, rather than separately addressing non-compliance with each drinking water rule. They said the approach particularly would help small systems, noting that 96% of all health-based violations occur at systems serving fewer than 10,000 people.

Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the committee chairman, said, "I am concerned that the federal government has not done enough in recent years to maintain and improve drinking water safeguards."

The hearing followed the publication of a New York Times article that reported widespread Safe Drinking Water Act violations committed predominantly by small systems over the past five years. It said up to 20% of consumers might be affected.

That newspaper report prompted the Water Quality Association to suggest that consumers consider installing home filtering systems as a final barrier for water contaminants.

Following the Senate hearing, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) urged EPA to develop an even better enforcement plan.

NACWA said, "EPA's latest enforcement plan ... mirrors the flawed existing enforcement model which focuses exclusively on point sources and does little to address the significant contributions of nonpoint sources to water quality degradation.

"The current focus on the quantity and expense of enforcement actions has created a 'one-size-fits-all' approach to dealing with CWA violations that assumes the same enforcement paradigm will work in all parts of the country. The existing enforcement model is not sustainable and will not address our nation's continuing water quality problems."

NACWA suggested a watershed approach to permitting and enforcement, more federal cooperation with state and local governments, and how much communities can afford to spend to meet clean water objectives.

Water Efficiency

EPA has issued the first national, voluntary, water-efficiency standard for new homes.

Water Administrator Silva said, "Home builders can now partner with EPA and earn the WaterSense label for their newly built homes. These homes will save homeowners as much as $200 a year on utility bills compared to their current homes."

The agency said it has worked with hundreds of stakeholders to develop the specification, which was designed to complement existing green building programs. WaterSense-labeled new homes, which would be 20% more efficient than typical new homes, must be certified by an EPA licensed inspector.

The new homes will feature WaterSense labeled plumbing fixtures, Energy Star qualified appliances (if installed), water-efficient landscaping, and hot water delivery systems that deliver hot water faster, so homeowners don't waste water or energy waiting at the tap.

EPA said that by investing in WaterSense labeled houses, home buyers could reduce their water usage by more than 10,000 gallons per year – enough to fill a swimming pool – and save enough energy annually to power a television for four years.

It said if all 1.27 million new homes built yearly were WaterSense labeled, it would save more than 12 billion gallons of water.

Separately, the Department of Energy has added residential water heaters to its Energy Star program.

It said the use of more energy efficient water heaters could reduce water heating bills 7.5-55% and same American homeowners up to $823 million in energy costs over the next 5 years.

In other Washington news:

– Carnegie Mellon University is leading research to reduce water problems related to hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells. The effort has a three-year, $1 million grant from the Department of Energy. WW

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