Why not Water?
The Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies and the Water
Infrastructure Network foresee a grim future, unless the federal
government commits to developing a long-term, sustainable funding source
for core water and wastewater infrastructure
by Ken Kirk
More than 30 years have passed since the enactment of
the Clean Water Act in 1972. In honor of the Act's 30th anniversary,
President George W. Bush dubbed 2003 the "Year of Clean Water."
Organizations and individuals involved in clean water issues have
rightly employed this occasion to trumpet the progress the United States
has made in water quality over the past few decades. Yet this progress,
simply put, is in peril. Americans cannot continue to take the most
basic natural resource -- clean and safe water -- for granted. What is
out of sight -- our water and wastewater pipes and systems -- can no
longer remain out of mind.
Congress has already proven itself capable of the vision
and bipartisanship necessary to create long-term, sustainable funding
sources for the nation's highways and aviation infrastructure. Unless
Congress and the White House display the same vision on behalf of the
nation's clean and safe water infrastructure, the nation will be faced
with a public health and environmental crisis that could have been
prevented by early investment.
Despite a historic consensus reached by the federal
government over the past year regarding a massive clean and safe water
infrastructure shortfall in the hundreds of billions of dollars, the
federal government continues to bury its collective head in the sand in
the vain hope that the issue will miraculously take care of itself. The
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) pivotal report, The
Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Gap Analysis, issued
late last year, documents a startling water and wastewater
infrastructure funding gap of as much as $600 billion. The Congressional
Budget Office and the General Accounting Office issued reports echoing
EPA figures. These reports are available at
Filling the Water Funding Gap
Significantly, these reports make one fundamental fact clear -- there is
no longer a question that a massive funding gap exists and that the
national focus has now shifted to the more critical question of how to
close the clean and safe water funding gap. There is only one viable
solution: The federal government must commit to developing a long-term,
sustainable funding source for core water and wastewater infrastructure.
If pavement and landing strips merit such attention, can there be any
doubt that clean and safe water demand equal treatment? Americans
nationwide should be asking their local and national elected officials
one question: Why not water?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) pivotal
report, The Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Gap
Analysis, issued late last year, documents a startling water and
wastewater infrastructure funding gap of as much as $600 billion.
The Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies
(AMSA), the largest association of publicly owned wastewater treatment
works in the country, can attest to the fact that the municipal budgets
are overburdened by an economic downturn, the out-of-control costs
required to comply with an endless stream of unfunded EPA regulations
(especially in the wet weather arena), increasing security demands and
expenses in the wake of September 11, 2001, and an ever-expanding debt
burden in order to meet these expanding needs.
Municipal officials are stuck between a budgetary rock
and a hard place, often forced to choose between system upgrades to meet
complex, new federal regulations and pipe replacement and repair that
ensures they will continue to meet the requirements of the Clean Water
and Safe Drinking Water Acts. Whatever priorities municipal officials
choose to implement, something is left undone that must subsequently be
factored into future budgets at a higher cost, adding to the cycle of an
expanding funding shortfall.
Despite their own estimates and collected evidence, many
in Congress and the Bush administration continue to assert that the
nation's water infrastructure is strictly a municipal issue, taking
extraordinary pains to ignore the interstate nature of clean and safe
water issues and the daily affects on virtually every American.
Amazingly, EPA and some in Congress continue to assert that the state
revolving loan funds (SRF) and annual utility rate hikes will cover the
half a trillion dollar need. This conclusion is preposterous and defies
the facts. AMSA's 2002 Financial Survey, released in February
2003, surveys member treatment works and demonstrates that only 20
percent of survey respondents even used the Clean Water SRF in 2001. It
also shows that in the past 15 years public wastewater utilities have
raised rates on average over two percent annually above the rate of
inflation. In short, municipalities are already doing everything in
their power to ensure the viability of their drinking water and
wastewater treatment utilities. The needs are simply too staggering for
the types of simplistic "solutions" put forth to date by the federal
This begs the question then of what the federal
government is doing to ensure Americans have clean and safe water. The
answer unfortunately, is they are trying to side step the issue.
Municipal officials have been facing a dramatic decline in federal
capital investment for water infrastructure repair and upgrades. In
1980, federal capital investment in water infrastructure was nearly $10
billion of a total investment of $18 billion. By 1994, it fell to nearly
$3 billion and continues on a downward trend, falling to well below 10
percent of total water infrastructure investment and most of that in the
form of loans.
The federal government must commit to
developing a long-term, sustainable funding source for core water
and wastewater infrastructure.
This decline in federal investment becomes even more
perplexing when one considers the economic value America's clean and
safe water systems create across nearly every sector of the economy and
every region of the country. The Water Infrastructure Network (WIN) is a
broad-based coalition of local elected officials, drinking water and
wastewater service providers, state environmental and health
administrators, engineers, labor organizations and environmentalists
seeking to protect the health and environmental gains of America's
drinking water and wastewater. In its report, Water Infrastructure
NOW: Recommendations for Clean and Safe Water in the 21st
Century, WIN estimates the following industries rely entirely on a
clean and safe water supply: $50 billion a year in water-based
recreation products, $300 billion a year in coastal tourism, $45 billion
a year in commercial fishing and hundreds of billions of dollars in
Raising Infrastructure Awareness
Over the past two years, AMSA and WIN representatives have met with many
federal officials to raise awareness of the infrastructure challenges
the nation faces and the dire public health and environmental
consequences of federal inaction. Thanks in large part to the efforts of
WIN and AMSA, slow but steady progress is being made to educate the
public and elected leaders on the clean and safe water legislation. The
108th Congress has already introduced legislation that would
modestly increase grant and loan levels for clean and safe water
infrastructure. But these bills simply do not recognize the breadth of
the problem and fail to go far enough. Again, only a long-term, core
infrastructure funding source can ultimately solve the current funding
gap and preserve the nation's clean and safe water infrastructure for
generations to come -- just as has been accomplished for highways.
To increase awareness in Congress, the public and the
media regarding the infrastructure funding shortfall, AMSA recently
formed the Water Infrastructure Funding Task Force comprised of AMSA
member public utilities. The Task Force believes that as Americans
slowly but steadily become aware of the fragile state of their precious
clean and safe water resources and voice their concerns to their local
and federal elected officials, Congress and the White House will seize
this opportunity to create a long-term, sustainable fund to ensure clean
and safe water for future generations.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2003 issue of
Water & Wastewater Products, Volume 3, Number 3.
Ken Kirk is executive director for the Association of Metropolitan
Sewerage Agencies (AMSA). He can be reached by telephone at (202)
833-4653 or via e-mail at
firstname.lastname@example.org. AMSA is a national trade organization
representing nearly 300 of the nation's publicly owned wastewater
utilities who treat over 18 billion gallons of wastewater every day.
AMSA members are environmental practitioners dedicated to protecting and
improving the nation's waters.