Municipal Water Leader
Photo of the Big Dam Bridge in North Little Rock, Arkansas
News

Innovative Financing Is Key to Improving, Upgrading, and Investing in Our Water Infrastructure

Access to safe, clean water is critical to the livelihood of every American. It’s important that we continue to prioritize infrastructure improvements in order to provide citizens with reliable and safe drinking water and effective wastewater and stormwater treatment.

As a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I participated in the two hearings held this year on the needs and challenges of our nation’s water infrastructure. As we work to craft and pass a new Water Resources Development Act, we are examining the state of our water infrastructure nationwide.

As you’re likely well aware, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our nation’s drinking water infrastructure a D in its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card. The mark reflects the damage our aging infrastructure has on the water supply. An estimated 240,000 water main breaks each year waste more than 2 trillion gallons of drinking water. The American Water Works Association estimates that $1 trillion is necessary to maintain and expand service to meet our needs over the next 25 years.

The challenge is that we face an over $500 billion shortfall in funding to repair our aging water infrastructure. This is a national emergency. Investment in our water infrastructure is crucial to ensuring that Americans have access to clean, safe, and reliable drinking water. We need a cost-effective plan that will help address the backlog of long-awaited local infrastructure projects. That’s why I’m leading a bipartisan effort to update how we invest in water infrastructure.

The Securing Required Funding for Water Infrastructure Now (SRF WIN) Act seeks to modernize water infrastructure investment by empowering states to finance multiple water infrastructure projects. This legislation combines the best aspects of state revolving funds (SRFs) with the proven leveraging power of the Water Infrastructure and Innovation Act (WIFIA) to make the funding process easier and more affordable for states to meet their underserved or unmet water infrastructure needs.

The SRF WIN Act will create a significant pot of money within the WIFIA program that is available only to SRFs. The fiscal year 2017 appropriation of $25 million leveraged $1.5 billion in direct loans for water infrastructure. This legislation will be a 5-year bill that authorizes $200 million each year, for a total of $1 billion over 5 years.

Our legislation would dramatically increase the availability of SRF funding to communities across the nation while substantially reducing the time and related costs for completing projects. This legislation allows SRFs to bundle their priority drinking water and wastewater projects together and make a single loan request, saving the state the $100,000 application fee per project. This would allow thousands of vetted water and wastewater projects to receive funding without the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) having to process as many applications. For those projects found to be unqualified, the EPA will provide information about what needs to be done to meet the requirements.

In line with the administration’s infrastructure priorities, this bill is an innovative approach to helping communities of all sizes and in every state secure loans so they can improve their aging infrastructure. For communities that have not typically qualified for funding in the past, this will be an important tool to finance water infrastructure improvements.

All 50 SRFs have a triple-A bond rating, so they have a very low risk of default. This, combined with the leveraging power of WIFIA, gives the SRF WIN Act the leveraging capacity of an incredible 100 to 1, according to technical assistance provided by the EPA’s Office of Water.

Arkansas National Resources Commission Executive Director Bruce Holland expressed the organization’s support for the SRF WIN Act because it builds on the SRF investment, calling it “a significant addition to the ‘SRF tool box’ of financing options.”

Simply put, the SRF WIN Act would represent a critical component to future water infrastructure financing.

This is not a hand-out. The SRF WIN Act provides communities with the tools they need to help themselves. The low-cost loan available from the federal government will be paid back over 35 years. With more than three decades to pay back their loan, rate payers will avoid harm and not see massive rate spikes. Instead of waiting decades for funding, communities will be able to invest in their crumbling water infrastructure now.

The need to improve our aging water infrastructure is reflected in the broad, bipartisan Senate support for this bill. I was proud to introduce this legislation with Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). We have gained momentum with additional co-sponsors, including the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee John Barrasso (R-WY).

This is not only a bipartisan effort, but a bicameral one as well. The SRF WIN Act was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen John Katko (R-NY) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

The SRF WIN Act has strong support from rural and municipal water and wastewater organizations. This landmark legislation also has the support of our nation’s leading construction, engineering, labor, and manufacturing organizations.

Water infrastructure investment needs to be a priority. It is time for leaders across the country to be realistic about our water problems and commit to funding this vital building block. Innovative financing is key to improving, upgrading, and investing in our water infrastructure. The SRF WIN Act is another great tool that will help advance this goal.