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Civil Engineering
Copyright (c) 2002 ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights reserved.
Copyright American Society of Civil Engineers Apr 2002

Monday, April 1, 2002

Volume 72, Issue 4; ISSN: 0885-7024

Water infrastructure funding debate intensifies
Jay Landers

POLICY BRIEFING

Bipartisan congressional efforts to significantly boost funding for water and wastewater infrastructure have begun to solidify, but they face firm opposition from the White House.

In the Senate, a bill (S. 1961) introduced on February 15 by
Senator Bob Graham (D-Florida) has emerged as the major vehicle for
increasing the federal government's annual contributions to the
water and wastewater infrastructure funding programs, known
respectively as the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the
Clean Water State Revolving Fund. Administered individually by the
states, the state revolving finds (SRFS) provide low-interest loans
to utilities and other recipients, offering a significant source of
funding for infrastructure improvements.

Entitled the Water Investment Act of 2002, S. 1961 has the support
of Senator James Jeffords (I-Vermont), the chairman of the Senate
Environment and Public Works Committee, as well as the committee's
ranking minority member, Senator Robert Smith (R-New Hampshire).
Although the bill would alter the SRF programs in a variety of ways,
it most notably would authorize a total of $35 billion over five
years for both SRFS, a dramatic increase.

Compared with fiscal year (FY) 2002 levels, the bill would more
than double the funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund in
FY 2003-from $1.35 billion to $3.2 billion-and increase the funding
of the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund for the same period by
more than 50 percent, from $850 million to $1.5 billion. The Bush
administration, by contrast, has proposed reducing funding for the
Clean Water State Revolving Fund to $1.2 billion and maintaining the
current level of $850 million for the Drinking Water State Revolving
Fund in FY 2003.

In subsequent years, S. 1961 would authorize another $3.2 billion
for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund in FY 2004, followed by
$3.6 billion in FY 2005, $4 billion in FY 2006, and $6 billion in FY
2007. On the drinking water side, the bill would boost spending to
$2 billion annually in FY 2004 and FY 2005, before increasing it to
$3.5 billion in FY 2006 and $6 billion in FY 2007. All told, the
Clean Water State Revolving Fund would receive $20 billion and the
Drinking Water State Revolving Fund $15 billion during the five-year
period.

A bill introduced in the House (H.R. 3792) on February 26 would go
even further, at least on the wastewater side. Sponsored by
Representative Sue Kelly (R-New York), a member of the House
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the legislation would
fund just the Clean Water State Revolving Fund at a total level of
$25 billion over five years. Legislation in the House to address
funding for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund would need to
come from the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction
over the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The introduction of the bills in the Senate and the House suggests
that efforts by such groups as the Water Infrastructure Network
(wiN)-a coalition of elected officials, water and wastewater service
providers, environmental groups, associations, and professional
societies, including ASCE-to educate Congress on the need to address
the growing gap between water infi-astructure funding and needs is
beginning to bear fruit.

The White House, however, has wasted little time in signaling its
opposition to significantly boosting funding for the SRFS.
Testifying before a February 26 hearing of the Senate Environment
and Public Works Committee, Benjamin Grumbles, the deputy assistant
administrator for water in the US. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA), said that the Bush administration "cannot support the funding
levels" in S. 1961 because they are "not consistent with the overall
priorities laid out in the budget," namely defense and homeland
security.

Despite the administration's reluctance to increase funding for the
SRFS, some groups are pushing for even. larger additions to the
funds. On March 7, the WIN issued a statement that supported S. 1961
but advocated an increase of the total funding authorized by the
bill from $35 billion to $57 billion. The group maintains that this
is the amount of funding that will be needed during the next five
years to fully address water infrastructure needs.

Although they differ in the amount of funding they would authorize,
both S. 1961 and H.R. 3792 contain provisions designed to expand the
types of activities eligible for funding under the Clean Water State
Revolving Fund. In addition to the traditional types of wastewater
projects currently eligible for funding, such as publicly owned
treatment works, S. 1961 would allow funding of projects to
conserve, reuse, reclaim, or recycle water, provided these efforts
benefited water quality. As examples of these approaches, the bill
lists "land conservation, low-impact development technologies,
redevelopment of waterfront brownfields, watershed management
actions, decentralized wastewater treatment innovations, and other
nonpoint best management practices."

In addition to allowing funding for such projects, S. 1961 would go
a step further by mandating that recipients of sRF funds indicate
that they have considered using "nonstructural alternatives or
technologies that may be more environmentally sensitive" than some
traditional approaches to water and wastewater treatment. However,
this requirement would not apply to requests for assistance that
would be used solely for planning, design, and preconstruction
activities.

Under H.R. 3792, measures to enhance the security of wastewater
treatment plants would also be eligible for funding. Furthermore,
the bill would make several other activities eligible for
assistance, including restoring riparian areas and acquiring lands
to comply with mitigation requirements related to the construction
of a publicly owned treatment facility.

In an attempt to ensure that water and wastewater utilities that
receive funds from the sRFs are operating as cost-effectively and
efficiently as possible, S. 1961 would implement several new
requirements that recipients would have to meet. For example,
utilities would have to demonstrate that they are technically and
financially competent, have considered restructuring or other
options to improve their financial situation, and have or will
develop a reasonable rate structure. However, many groups say these
requirements could complicate and stifle the SRF application
process.

To help defray the costs to municipalities of complying with the
Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, S. 1961 would
require the EPA to conduct a five-year, $100-million nationwide
program to develop innovative technologies and approaches for
addressing water quality and water supply issues. Eligible projects
would address such problems as excessive nutrients, sanitary sewer
overflows and combined sewer overflows, non-point-source pollution,
and a lack of monitoring and data analysis for distribution systems.

S. 1961 was expected to be amended and possibly voted on by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on March 14, past press time.

-Jay Landers

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