Water and wastewater treatment is responsible for some of the greatest gains in public health over the past hundred years and are cited as among the top ten health advances that have changed the world. In fact, medical researchers conclude that advances in clean water at the turn of the 20th century are responsible for a 74% reduction in infant mortality rates and a 62% reduction in child mortality rates. Today, diseases such as typhoid fever and cholera have largely been eradicated in the U.S. due to investment in safe and clean water infrastructure. Investments in water infrastructure in the forty years since enactment of the Clean Water Act in 1972 have not only led to these public health gains, but have led to a nearly 50% increase in the number of rivers and streams deemed fishable and swimmable.
However, the recent drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan and the current drought in the West that has stressed water supplies are raising questions among the public and our nation’s leaders as to whether we are taking these public health and environmental gains for granted. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2013 Infrastructure Report Card gives a “D” grade to our clean water infrastructure, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that over $600 billion in additional investment is needed to repair and replace water and wastewater treatment systems.
Most of this needed investment will come from ratepayers who already see water and sewer rates rise at approximately twice the rate of inflation each year in order to pay nearly $100 million annually for water and wastewater services. For low-income ratepayers whose wages have stagnated for several decades, affording the investment that is needed is quickly becoming a financial impossibility, with some viewing the affordability of water and sewer bills a significant civil rights issue.
NACWA’s advocacy is focused on ensuring that the federal government remains a strong partner with local communities to ensure Americans have access to clean and safe water through federal investment in programs that provide low-cost (and in some cases, no cost) financing for wastewater infrastructure.
Federal funding and financing programs for which NACWA advocates include:
Tax-exempt municipal bonds - For more than a century, tax-exempt municipal bonds have been the most important source of funding for water and wastewater infrastructure projects in the United States. Since 2003, municipalities have issued $258 billion worth of tax-exempt municipal bonds to fund water and wastewater infrastructure – comprising approximately 16 percent of all municipal bond issuance for all infrastructure projects over this period. Maintaining the federal exemption status for investment income derived from municipal bonds is critical to the water sector.
Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program - The Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) program is a federal-state partnership that provides communities a permanent, independent source of low-cost financing for a wide range of water quality infrastructure projects.
Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) - The WIFIA program will accelerate investment in our nation’s water infrastructure by providing attractive low-interest loans for regionally and nationally significant projects. The WIFIA program was established in the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2014.
Bureau of Reclamation’s Title XVI Grant program for water reuse and recycling - Title XVI of P.L. 102-575, as amended (Title XVI), provides authority for Reclamation’s water recycling and reuse program, titled “Title XVI.” Through the Title XVI program, Reclamation identifies and investigates opportunities to reclaim and reuse wastewaters and naturally impaired ground and surface water in the 17 Western States and Hawaii. Title XVI includes funding for the planning, design, and construction of water recycling and reuse projects, on a project specific basis, in partnership with local government entities.
Additionally, NACWA’s Financial Survey and Index provide an unparalleled look at the clean water sector’s revenues, expense capital need, sewer service charges, rates and more. NACWA works to ensure Congress and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have access to and understand this critical utility investment information.