As the nation’s clean water infrastructure moves towards the third decade of the 21st century, more investment is needed to keep pace with growing populations and emerging water quality issues, address legacy combined sewer overflows, and maintain and repair existing infrastructure that has surpassed its useful life. Complicating the infrastructure funding discussion is a very basic question: who will pay for all of this?
The federal government has substantially reduced its funding role, leaving the burden almost exclusively with local governments. But these same local governments and their utilities are facing a huge affordability problem where growing segments of their communities may not be able to afford the rising cost of clean water. NACWA believes that addressing this low-income affordability challenge is one of the most critical issues for municipal clean water utilities and is working on two main fronts:
- Low Income Rate Assistance – NACWA is working to explore barriers to community assistance programs and other tools utilities may be able to use to address the affordability challenge, including income-based rates. Utilities have employed these programs for many years with great success and more communities are looking to adopt them. At the same time, NACWA is pursuing development of a national low income rate assistance program could provide broader supports for households in need. We are also partnering with other groups in the water sector to explore existing barriers around the country to variable rate programs.
- Updating Approaches to Financial Capability Assessment – EPA’s 1997 financial capability assessment guidance is the Agency’s benchmark for determining affordability in the Clean Water Act context. This is especially true of federal enforcement actions and consent decrees, which can often be one of the largest drivers of clean water spending that any community undertakes. NACWA has been working for more than a decade to force EPA to update the 1997 guidance. While EPA has issued supplemental information to complement the 1997 guidance, the core framework remains, and NACWA continues it work in the legislative and regulatory arenas to achieve more updated assessment tools.