September 2021, Vol. 236, No. 9

Government

Infrastructure Bill Includes More Spending on Water Pipes, Sewers

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

The Senate infrastructure legislation provides major funding boosts to the drinking water and clean water state revolving funds (DWSRF/CWSRF), but congressional passage of the bill depends, apparently, on whether Congress also passes a second $3.5 trillion “social infrastructure” bill demanded by progressive Democrats in the House. 

The infrastructure bill allocates $11.7 billion over five years appropriated to each of the DWSRF and CWSRF and $15 billion over five years appropriated for lead service line replacement (through the DWSRF). Those SRF numbers work out to about $1 billion more per year for each fund than what Congress has appropriated each year for the past decade. For example, in fiscal year 2020, Congress appropriated $1.126 billion for the DWSRF.  

The money to replace lead drinking water lines is, however, less than what President Biden and some Democrats had been demanding: initially $45 billion. 

In addition to the funds for water infrastructure, the bill also allocates $65 billion for broadband access to areas in the U.S., mostly rural areas, without access. The largest chunk of that is through a broadband equity, access and deployment program with $42 billion being distributed as grants to the states who would competitively award subgrants for qualifying broadband infrastructure, mapping and adoption projects.  

Water infrastructure trade groups such as the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) had wanted the infrastructure bill to pick up the provisions in the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act (DWWIA) of 2021, which the Senate passed in April.  

That bill had even higher funding levels, reaching $3.2 billion per year for both funds in fiscal years 2025 and 2026, except that they were “authorizations,” meaning Congress would have had to appropriate the money separately as it has in the infrastructure bill. The DWWIA also had numerous policy changes and new grant programs with regard to water infrastructure projects. 

“Ideally, we would have liked the infrastructure bill to fully fund the $35 billion worth of drinking water and wastewater authorizations included in DWWIA, and we know multiple senators were fighting for that outcome. But we also don’t want perfect to be the enemy of the good, and the infrastructure bill does include many positive aspects,” said Dan Hartnett, chief advocacy officer for Legislative and Regulatory Affairs, AMWA. 

Steve Dye, legislative director, Water Environment Federation, hopes if and when the bill passes the Senate, the House will increase the dollars for water infrastructure above the Senate numbers and that those higher appropriations will make it into a final bill signed by Biden. 

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