GAO Releases Report on Addressing Utility Climate Preparedness

(February 26, 2020) – The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a Report to Congress calling for increased technical assistance to address utility resilience risk and recommending that federal agencies require climate information be considered in the water infrastructure project planning process. 

The report, titled  Technical Assistance and Climate Resilience Planning Could Help Utilities Prepare for Potential Climate Change, came in response to a request for study from Sen. Cardin (D-MD), who sponsored S. 2636, the Clean Water Infrastructure Resilience and Sustainability Act alongside Sen. Capito (R-WV).

NACWA is working with Sen. Cardin’s office to support this bipartisan bill, which would amend the Clean Water Act to establish a grant program for municipal entities to increase resiliency at clean water utilities. A version of this concept was incorporated into the House’s bipartisan clean water package (H.R. 1497), and NACWA is urging that the concept be incorporated into an upcoming Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2020 package to boost its chances of passage into law this year.

The GAO Report sheds light on the state of resilience resources for POTWs and drinking water utilities and provides recommendations for both technical and financial assistance. GAO notes that these resources come through four federal agencies – EPA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  

GAO notes that while EPA is the primary resources for technical assistance for water and wastewater utilities, its program is limited and does not meet utilities current and growing need for ongoing technical assistance managing climate risk. GAO recommends that EPA identify and engage a network of technical assistance providers to utilities, including industry groups, universities and governmental agencies.

On the funding side, GAO reports that federal agencies have taken some actions to promote climate resilience through federal financial assistance for water infrastructure, but there is no consistent requirement to consider climate information – which GAO found would improve utility resilience and reduce future required expenditures through planning for future conditions.  

GAO interviewed a mix of 15 water and wastewater utilities from around the US to inform development of the study. NACWA anticipates that Members of Congress will look to this report as they work to integrate resiliency into both existing and new federal infrastructure programs.

Please contact Kristina Surfus, NACWA Managing Director of Government Affairs, to discuss.