For decades, NUCA has served as chair of the Clean Water Council (CWC), a diverse coalition of construction contractors, manufacturers, distributors, service providers, and labor unions working to increase financing for badly-needed improvements to America’s water and wastewater infrastructure. Over the past few months, NUCA has been reenergizing the CWC, retaining the participation of longtime coalition members and reaching out to new stakeholders with similar interests in obtaining improvements needed for America’s environmental infrastructure.
This infrastructure provides Americans with safe drinking water, protects our nation’s waterways and beaches, and delivers the resources needed to keep the nation’s economy moving. Taken together, well-functioning water infrastructure is indispensable to the health of the United States. However, rapidly aging infrastructure and the lack of sustainable funding, along with rising costs of compliance with environmental standards, communities responsible for providing safe drinking water and wastewater service are faced with ever-increasing challenges. Meanwhile, the federal government contributes a decreasing share of the total funding allocated for infrastructure improvements.
CW SRF Reauthorization Needed
In March of this year, CWC wrote a letter to the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee in support of the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act (H.R. 1497). As introduced, the legislation would have provided more than $20 billion in Federal assistance to states and communities through the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Water State Revolving Fund program (CW SRF), which serves as the primary source of Federal assistance for wastewater infrastructure construction.
At the time, H.R. 1497 had no support from T&I Committee Republicans, which did not bode well for the likelihood of the bill’s passage. After discussions with both Republican and Democratic staff on the committee, CWC committed to supporting an amended version of H.R. 1497 in the spirit of compromise and the need to address what the EPA estimates to be a $271 billion problem.
In a press release issued before the bill’s consideration, committee chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said H.R. 1497 “renews the Federal commitment to addressing local water quality challenges by providing an infusion of Federal assistance for the construction, repair, and replacement of the Nation’s network of wastewater and stormwater conveyance and treatment facilities.” The substitute version of the bill would authorize approximately $16.7 billion in clean water infrastructure over the next five years.
Specifically, the legislation would:
- Authorize $14 billion to the CW SRF, providing low-interest loans and loan subsidizations to communities for wastewater infrastructure.
- Authorize $1.12 billion for grants to municipalities to address financial needs related to combined and sanitary sewer overflows or stormwater needs.
- Authorize $1.3 billion for grants for U.S. states to implement water pollution control programs.
- Provide $110 million in grants to address wet weather discharges, promote stormwater best management practices, water resource management, and increase the infrastructure resiliency to natural or man-made disasters.
- Authorize $150 million in grants for “alternative water source projects,” wastewater or stormwater reuse to augment existing sources of water.
- Codify the CW SRF “green-reserve” – a 15-percent set-aside for green infrastructure projects and energy or water efficiency improvements.
- Require utilities to evaluate and implement efforts to increase energy efficiency of wastewater utilities, including efforts to capture and reuse energy produced in the wastewater treatment process.
- Require states to set-aside a minimum of 10-percent of annual CW SRF funds to provide grants to communities with affordability challenges.
- Establish funding set-asides to address water infrastructure needs of small and rural communities.
- Require states to pay a larger share of construction costs to disadvantaged communities participating in EPA’s sewer overflow and stormwater grant program.
- Permanently codify set-aside of Clean Water SRF funds for tribal communities and the U.S. territories.
- Authorize states part of their CW SRF funds to promote workforce development and utility worker training and education.
- Require states to include estimates to address resiliency and climate change as part of their assessment of wastewater infrastructure needs.
CWC Pushes Water Legislation Through House Committee
Prior to the T&I Committee’s “mark-up” of H.R. 1497 on October 29, CWC sent a letter of support for the measure. The letter pointed out that “as wastewater systems continue to age and the costs of compliance with environmental requirements mount, communities face increasing difficulties in paying for needed infrastructure improvements. At the same time, federal spending accounted for just four percent of all spending on wastewater utility infrastructure in recent years.” CWC added that in addition to bolstering public health, “investment in wastewater infrastructure also generates economic activity and supports high-paying jobs. In fact, an estimated 27,000 jobs can come with $1 billion investment in water and wastewater infrastructure.”
The October 23rd letter was signed by 22 national organizations, including two unions, reflecting a significant expansion of CWC membership and participation. The entire letter can be found on the CWC website, cleanwatercouncil.net.
A CWC meeting was held soon after the letter was sent to all members of the T&I Committee, where several of these groups confirmed their membership in the CWC. Staff from the House Water Resources Subcommittee attended and thanked CWC for their assistance in garnering support for H.R. 1497 before the bill was considered by the T&I Committee on October 29, where the measure was approved by voice vote without amendment. The bill now goes to the full U.S. House for consideration.
NUCA will continue to serve as chair of CWC, which will continue to push for House passage this session of H.R. 1497 and its companion Senate legislation, as well as other measures to increase traditional financing for water and wastewater infrastructure and innovative funding options to open the door to private sector investment.
Strength in Numbers
These associations and organizations signed on the CWC letter supporting H.R. 1497:
- American Concrete Pavement Association
- American Concrete Pipe Association
- American Council of Engineering Companies
- American Public Works Association
- American Road & Transportation Builders Association
- American Society of Civil Engineers
- American Supply Association
- Associated Equipment Distributors
- Association of Equipment Manufacturers
- Associated General Contractors
- Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association
- International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials
- Laborers’ International Union of North America
- National Association of Sewer Service Companies
- National Ready Mixed Concrete Association
- National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association
- National Utility Contractors Association
- Nulca – representing utility locating professionals
- Plastics Pipe Institute
- Portland Cement Association
- United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters
- Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association
Eben Wyman is the principal of Wyman Associates, which represents NUCA governmental affairs activities in Congress and federal regulatory agencies.