ASDWA Makes Case for Drinking Water Funding

The Association of State Drinking Water Administrators has estimated that to fulfill the minimum required functions, state drinking water programs need at least $625 million per year, or $240 million more than they currently receive from all funding sources. It said for more robust, comprehensive programs, the requirement would be $748 million, leaving a gap of $308 million.

By Patrick Crow

The Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA) has estimated that to fulfill the minimum required functions, state drinking water programs need at least $625 million per year, or $240 million more than they currently receive from all funding sources.

It said for more robust, comprehensive programs, the requirement would be $748 million, leaving a gap of $308 million. ASDWA noted that since its last report on water financing in April 2003, "the situation has, in many respects, grown worse."

The association observed that the Safe Drinking Water Act was designed to protect consumers who receive their drinking water from one of the 152,000 public water systems in the U.S. Further, 97 percent of those systems are small, and many require additional support from state drinking water programs.

"As the requirements for addressing public health risks posed by drinking water contaminants have become more complex and pressing, state program responsibilities for adequately managing sources of drinking water, overseeing the treatment of drinking water and supervising water systems have all increased," according to ASDWA.

"States are tasked with ensuring that all of the federal requirements - and any more stringent state requirements - are met. This is a highly time- and resource-intensive undertaking for state programs," it said. "But in their absence, water systems may experience preventable operational or managerial failures, which pose potentially serious public health threats for consumers. Recent manmade and natural disasters have served to underscore the criticality of the work that state programs do to help ensure safe drinking water."

ASDWA noted that the public may see state drinking water programs as a relatively low priority since they generally work well. "A successful, prevention-based program makes few headlines and operates largely outside the public eye, which makes it harder to explain the importance of adequate funding. But the success of these essential state programs is not guaranteed and states continue to face fiscal challenges that compromise their effectiveness."

ASDWA recommended that Congress double funding for the $100-million-per-year Public Water System Supervision (PWSS) Grant Program. "The PWSS is the principal and most important source of funding for states because of its flexibility in supporting state programs, and because it is a dedicated source of funding for drinking water program implementation."

It said Congress should restore funding for the drinking water state revolving fund (SRF) from the current $853 million to the $1.3 billion appropriated in fiscal 2010. "ASDWA would like to emphasize that states urgently need greater funding levels for the drinking water SRF so that more funding for state programs can be made available through the set- asides … for both infrastructure and state programs, thereby lessening the pressure for tradeoffs between those uses."

ASDWA also added that Congress should restore the Drinking Water Security Grant Program, which expired a few years ago, allocating at least $10 million. "It was instrumental in helping states establish and implement state drinking water security programs to deal comprehensively with hazards and security threats, including those posed by both manmade and natural disasters. When the grant was discontinued, many states resorted to using PWSS grants or drinking water SRF set-asides to continue to fund state drinking water security programs."

Jim Taft, ASDWA's executive director, told WaterWorld that the key players in the struggle for federal funding are the EPA, the administration, the Office of Management and Budget and the congressional appropriations committees - and especially the latter.

Congress will launch the fiscal 2015 appropriations process after the president submits his budget proposal in March. "It's always an uphill battle to win changes like these, but we will begin by offering verbal and written testimony to the appropriations committees this spring," Taft said.

Legislative Updates

In January, yet another bill was filed to address water project financing problems. Reps. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.) filed the measure, H.R. 3862.

It would set into law EPA's integrated planning framework and extend permit terms up to 25 years for some communities; require EPA to broaden its financial capability determinations; extend the repayment to 30 years for some clean water SRF loans; forgive loans for communities that meet certain criteria; and ensure that small communities receive a portion of available funding under the clean water SRFs.

Of more immediate importance, in January Congress passed a $1.1-trillion fiscal 2014 spending bill that prevented draconian cuts to the drinking water and clean water SRFs.

The act allocated $906.9 million for the drinking water fund and $1.489 billion for the clean water fund, restoring most of the monies cut in last year's budget sequestration. Last year House lawmakers had proposed that the drinking water fund be slashed to $350 million and the clean water fund to $250 million.

However, the act required that all projects funded in whole or in part by SRF loans follow new "Buy American" requirements for the use of domestic iron and steel. Those materials would include lined or unlined pipes and fittings, manhole covers and other municipal castings, hydrants, tanks, flanges, pipe clamps and restraints, valves, structural steel, reinforced precast concrete, and construction materials.

EPA could waive those mandates if they would increase a project's costs by more than 25% or if domestic iron and steel products were not available in sufficient quantities or of satisfactory quality.

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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