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Nation's Cities Weekly
Copyright 2005 Gale Group Inc. All rights reserved.
Monday, January 3, 2005

ISSN: 0164-5935; Volume 28; Issue 1

Increase needed in federal commitment to water infrastructure.
(Special report: water infrastructure and safety)

Turner, Joanna Liberman

Aging and deteriorating infrastructure in our cities threatens the safety of our drinking water and the health of water bodies across the country. The cost associated with upgrading these systems while accommodating mostly unfunded federal drinking and wastewater mandates is staggering:

Current estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Congressional Budget Office identify a gap in funding infrastructure needs for wastewater in excess of $350 billion over the next 30 years.

The drinking water industry has documented a similar gap of more than $250 billion for the same time period for drinking water system infrastructure.

Members of NLC's Energy, Environment and Natural Resources (EENR) Committee and other direct member cities have consistently provided NLC with information about their local needs that reflect the validity of these statistics. Combined, these figures result in a funding gap of $600 billion in costs for cities to maintain, rehabilitate and replace their drinking water, wastewater and wet weather infrastructure.

Population growth, the simultaneous expiration of the useful life of pipes installed at different times across the country, and increasingly complex and costly federal mandates have all contributed to the funding shortfall.

Though cities spend more than $60 billion annually on operating and maintaining their water facilities, federal financial participation in meeting these mandates has steadily declined over the last 20 years, forcing cities to spend their resources on federal--not local--water infrastructure priorities.

Currently, the federal government offers financial assistance to cities in the form of the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (Clean Water SRF) and the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund (Drinking Water SRF), which offer below-market loans to communities seeking to make sewer or drinking water infrastructure improvements.

However, a survey from the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies (AMSA) found that less than 20 percent of sewer districts use the CWSRF, while less than 10 percent of wastewater infrastructure projects are funded by it. Many public works officials and NLC member cities claim that though the interest rates are usually slightly better for a loan obtained through the State Revolving Loan Funds, the cost of compiling the paperwork required for one often negates the savings.

Earmarks granted to cities through the federal annual appropriations process are the only other federal source for these types of infrastructure improvements. To obtain this funding, cities must have their Congressional delegations include their projects in appropriations bills, a process that is often expensive for the specific municipality and inequitable to cities generally.

NLC is a strong advocate for increases in federal funding to accommodate the gap between current expenditures and anticipated needs for this critical infra structure. Current NLC policy urges Congress to provide this federal funding to meet all clean and drinking water mandates that it imposes on municipalities.

NLC also calls on Congress to provide more flexibility in the types of assistance available to municipalities by restoring grant funding while supporting existing loan programs. NLC urges Congress to increase investment in research and technology development.

NLC believes that a sound infrastructure is the foundation of a sound economy and essential to the protection of public health. Without immediate, increased federal financial commitments to this critical infrastructure, both will be threatened.

Details: If you would like to assist NLC efforts to increase federal funds for water infrastructure, please e-mail Joanna Liberman Turner, Senior Policy Analyst, at liberman@nlc.org, or Carol Kocheisen, Principal Legislative Counsel, at kocheisen@nlc.org.

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