The Outlook for Water Infrastructure Funding in 2019

This year, more so than ever, it will be incumbent upon all water associations, groups, and stakeholders to join together and speak with one voice to elevate the needs of water infrastructure in the national debate.

By Vanessa M. Leiby

Improving the country’s water, wastewater assets will require a united front among the water sector

As we begin a new year, we are always hopeful that it will be better than the previous one and that a fresh start will allow for opportunities to set and reach new goals. As we wound down 2018, the conversation at the national level focused anew on infrastructure funding.

With the Republicans retaining control of the Senate and Democrats taking over control of the House, it will only be through compromise and bi-partisan efforts that a meaningful legislative agenda will emerge. For both parties, the next two years will be critical in proving to the electorate that Congress can pass legislation that will have a positive impact on the American economy, the environment, and the workforce.

Funding for infrastructure is becoming one of those issues that both parties may be able to support to provide the much needed “wins” going into another election cycle in two years. In fact, we ended 2018 on a positive note for water infrastructure with the passage and signing of America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018. The bill, which passed the Senate with a nearly unanimous vote of 99-1 and was signed into law by the President on October 23, creates a broad and comprehensive roadmap by which legislators can take up the discussion in 2019, at least as it pertains to water infrastructure. Key aspects of the law related to drinking water improvements will:

• Authorize federal funding for water infrastructure projects, which leverages billions in water infrastructure spending;

• Assist local communities in complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act by upgrading aging drinking water, wastewater, and irrigation systems;

• Require a study on intractable water systems and the barriers they face to delivering potable drinking water;

• Authorize a new grant program for states to assist small and disadvantaged systems with monitoring and testing for contaminants;

• Promote water reuse;

• Authorize funding for lead testing at schools and daycare centers;

• Authorize grants to develop, test, and deploy innovative water technologies;

• Provide additional time for a system that enters into a contract with a non-compliant system to achieve compliance;

• Improve accuracy and availability of compliance monitoring data;

• Improve consumer confidence reports;

• Encourage the use of asset management;

• Address water system risk and resiliency;

• Authorize additional grants for state programs;

• Modify eligibility requirements for SRF funding;

• Authorize funding for voluntary source water protection plans;

• Authorize funding for intelligent systems or smart technology;

• Expand monitoring for unregulated contaminants;

• Extend the American Iron and Steel requirements on DWSRF funds for five years; and

• Authorize additional funding for SRF programs.

While extremely comprehensive in nature, the critical issue is that funding for these many and varied programs is authorized, not appropriated. For now, it is only paper, until the appropriations committees actually find and approve the funding. On the positive side, these programs have now been articulated and suggested funding levels have been included in the public law that can be used to guide lawmakers as they move forward with their work.

Also key will be ensuring that water infrastructure funding achieve equivalent status to roads, bridges, ports, hospitals, and broadband networks, among other infrastructure funding discussions, so that we can be sure to get a piece of the funding pie. Where the money comes from will be another pivotal element of the discussion: While Democrats tend to lean toward federal funding, Republicans prefer bringing in private equity and other funding alternatives to leverage a smaller federal investment.

Regardless, it is important that we develop a platform, a solid foundation upon which we can move forward and build as a united water industry. This year, more so than ever, it will be incumbent upon all water associations, groups, and stakeholders to join together and speak with one voice to elevate the needs of water infrastructure in the national debate. Let us all make a New Year’s resolution that this will be the year we will fund water infrastructure and create jobs, improve public health, and protect the environment!

About the Author: Vanessa M. Leiby is the executive director of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA), a trade association formed in 1908. WWEMA is the voice of water and wastewater technology providers in the water sector. More information about WWEMA can be found at www.wwema.org.

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