Last updateFri, 18 Sep 2020 7pm

Water Infrastructure: Show Us the Money

arra_sealThe federal government’s vigorous attempts to get the economy moving are producing gushers of money for water projects of all types. The American Recovery Reinvestment Act of 2009 allocates large amounts to water infrastructure, but it’s far from the only source: There’s the Water Quality Investment Act of 2009, changes to the tax law to allow more money for private activity bonds for water projects, and a good number of other water-related bills. Add to that a long list of earmarks sending money to legislators’ home districts and you have a lot of money. The trick is to ferret it out. In this article, we’ll try to bring things up to date on what's been happening legislatively with the water infrastructure.

American Recovery Reinvestment Act of 2009

The Department of the Interior is dispensing large sums under the American Recovery Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

The ARRA allocates $1.4 billion for direct loans and grants for the rural water, waste water, and waste disposal programs and part of the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act. As part of that, on April 21 Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announced that 56 communities in 34 states have been selected to receive more than a $144 million in loans and grants for infrastructure improvements to improve water availability and quality. A complete list of loan and grant recipients is available here.

The Corps of Engineers gets $25 million for investigations; $2 billion for construction (of which at least $200 million shall be for water-related environmental infrastructure assistance); $375 million for the Mississippi River and Tributaries; and $2.1 billion for Operation and Maintenance.

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation is allocated $1 billion for water and related resources. This is divided as follows:

  • $260,000,000 to California
  • $200,000,000 to the Great Plains
  • $101,000,000 to the Lower Colorado region
  • $94,600,000 to the Pacific Northwest

$28,300,000 to the Upper Colorado Region

Also allocated by Interior is $50 million for the Central Utah Project

The ARRA allocates $6.4 billion for State and Tribal Assistance Grants, of which $4 billion is for capitalization grants for the Clean Water State Revolving Funds under title VI of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and $2 billion is for capitalization grants under section 1452 of the Safe Drinking Water Act, with priority given to projects that are ready to go within one year of the enactment of the Act.

A somewhat different take on this spending comes from Citizens Against Government Waste, whose Pigbook for 2009 identifies 302 water infrastructure projects (listed under EPA - State and Tribal Assistance Grants - Water and Wastewater Infrastructure) with an aggregate value of $147.5 million (see table below). The difficulty in using these figures, as explained by CAGW media guy Aaron Taylor, is that an earmark added to an appropriations bill may authorize additional money not included in the original bill, or merely specify how some portion of the appropriated moneys are to be spent — depending on Congress’s level of fiscal discipline — so don’t take these numbers as necessarily allocating any additional money.







































































































Under the heading International Boundary and Water Commission, United States and Mexico Construction, the ARRA allocates $220 million for construction under the water quantity program to meet immediate repair and rehabilitation requirements

The stimulus act also gives $6 billon to the Environmental Protection Agency for water quality, wastewater infrastructure and drinking water infrastructure. The American Water Works Association (AWWA) reported on April 14 that stimulus funds had been allocated to the following states:

  • Idaho $19.5 million
  • Kansas $19.5 million
  • Kentucky $20.4 million
  • Maine $19.5 million
  • Nebraska $19.5 million
  • North Carolina $70.7 million
  • Oregon $28.5 million
  • Washington $41.8 million

AWWA Streamlines reports that some projects that would use these funds are being held up by uncertainty about the Recovery Act’s Buy American Provisions.

Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009

HR 1105, the Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009 (aka the federal budget), according to AWWA, includes:

  • $689 million for the wastewater SRF program, the same level it received the previous year;
  • $790 million for science and technology programs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a boost of $30 million from the previous year;
  • $145 million for "special project grants" for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater projects;
  • $20 million for drinking water and wastewater projects on the U.S.-Mexican border;
  • $18.5 million for drinking water and wastewater projects in rural and native Alaskan villages;
  • $5.4 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers, $185 million less than in FY2008; and
  • $1.1 billion for water and hydroelectric programs at the Bureau of Reclamation, $33.2 million less than in FY2008.

AWWA points out that this is a separate appropriation from the $2 billion in funding the drinking water SRF received in the economic stimulus bill, and that the President's budget proposal for FY2010 would provide $1.5 billion for the drinking water SRF program.

HR 1262, the Water Quality Investment Act of 2009

On March 12 the House passed HR 1262, The Water Quality Investment Act, and sent it on to the Senate. Government Relations Professional Molly Dye, who keeps a close eye on these things, nicely summarizes its provisions as follows:

  • Fund for the wastewater SRF to $13.8 billion over five years – some could be used for forgiveness of principle or a negative-interest loan
  • Authorize $1.8 billion in grants for sewer overflow projects
  • Authorize $300 million annually for five years for state management assistance
  • Authorize $150 million annually for five years to address sediment issues in the Great Lakes
  • Authorize $100 million over five years for research & demonstrations for pollution prevention
  • Authorize $50 million per year for five years for grants for wastewater reclamation
  • Requires sewage treatment plants to implement an overflow alert system

State-by-state allocations under HR 1262 are available here.

Other bills

There are a fair number of other bills in the pipeline; whether any of them will eventually see daylight is unknown. Here’s a rundown.

On February 4 Rep. Pascrell of New Jersey introduced a bill (HR 895) entitled the Water Quality Investment Act of 2009, which would reauthorize the sewer overflow control grants program; it would allocate appropriate for the purpose $250 million for fiscal year 2010, $300 million for fiscal year 2011, $350 million for fiscal year 2012, $400 million for fiscal year 2013, and $500 million for fiscal year 2014. On February 5 it was referred to the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, and has not been seen since.

There are also a number of state-specific bills, all of which were referred to the House Subcommittee on Water and Power on February 12 and have not been seen since:

  • HR 924, the Rio Grande Pueblos Irrigation Infrastructure Improvement Act, would allocate $4 million for study, $6 million for projects for the irrigation infrastructure of the Rio Grande Pueblos in New Mexico
  • HR 925, to authorize the construction and rehabilitation of water infrastructure
  • in Northwestern New Mexico, would allocate $500 million through 2018.
  • HR 1000 would allocate $50 million to provide environmental assistance to non-Federal interests in Colorado.

Private Initiatives

Apart from legislation, some water authorities in drought-stricken regions are increasing rates as customers use less water — partly to encourage conservation and partly to balance the books, as less water used means less revenue. This is perhaps most notable in California, but other areas are also doing it: North Carolina, Georgia, Colorado, Wisconsin, Texas, Florida, Virginia, New Mexico and Nevada. Even in areas not affected by drought, rates are rising as consumption decreases. New York City, for example, is attributing a decrease in water use to the recession, but the effect on revenues is the same.

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