May 2019, Vol. 246, No. 5


Local Sewer Grants Targeted for Big, Speculative Increase

Stephen Barlas, Contributing Editor, Washington, D.C.

 There seems to be a pretty good chance that Congress will pass a reauthorization of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) this Congress given strong bi-partisan support for the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2019 (H.R. 1497). 

The bill would authorize $4 billion for the EPA sewer loan program in each of fiscal years 2020 through 2024. That is nearly four times the $1.694 billion Congress appropriated in FY19. But one does not have to go too far out on a limb to predict Congress will not appropriate a 300 percent increase annually in fiscal 2020-24.

The bill has a number of other provisions aimed at helping local communities repair aging sewer systems, for example, extending the authorization of Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grants at $225 million per year through 2024. But the $4 billion annual funding level for the CWSRF, which, again, must be appropriated separately by Congress, is the marquee provision in the bill, which is being supported by top Democrats and Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. 

The CWSRF is popular with cities and counties around the country because it provides loans at interest rates below 1 percent over 20-30 years, which looks good compared to the 4½-5% municipalities would otherwise have to pay.

But given the huge sewer construction needs in the U.S., witnesses at the hearings in the Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee in March argued that even $4 billion a year for the CWSRF won’t make much of a dent in the financial needs of wastewater systems nationwide. 

“And while we are grateful for the sums of money in this consideration, I think all will agree, these amounts are not enough to address every wastewater infrastructure investment need, so reliance on a more flexible model to improve water quality can be achieved through integrated planning and other potential tools,” David Condon, mayor of Spokane, Wash., told the T&I water resources and environment subcommittee. 

The EPA has had an “integrated planning” program in place for a decade where the agency tries to ease permitting requirements for cities and counties with effluent contamination by allowing them to use alternative methods such as green infrastructure and projects to reclaim, recycle, or reuse water.  

This allows governments to avoid hiking up sewer rates on residents by pocketing savings from rainfall recycling. P&GJ

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