House Appropriations Committee Boosts FY21 Clean Water Investment but Excludes WIFIA, Water Sector Responds

(July 16, 2020) – As the start of the federal Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) rapidly approaches on October 1st, the U.S. House has begun working to advance its annual Appropriations (funding) bills through their committee process. Last week, the House Appropriations Committee passed its Interior and Environment bill to fund the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and core clean water programs.

The House EPA bill for FY21 is in most respects a uniquely strong package for water, aiming to address the nation’s clean water investment need. The package builds upon the robust funding increases clean water has seen in recent fiscal years and further provides an emergency critical infrastructure investment of well over $12 billion for clean water and drinking water, including nearly $8 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF).

This number would help mitigate the significant financial impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on clean water agencies. NACWA greatly appreciates Congressional recognition of this need.

While the package was drafted with significant bipartisan involvement, the addition of a total of $15 billion in emergency spending – the majority for water – along with several controversial policy riders led the Republican minority in the House to not support the overall package. This level of emergency spending is also unlikely to be well received in the Senate, which has not yet released its FY21 spending bills.

One alarming issue, however, is that the House bill provides no new direct appropriations for WIFIA. On the contrary, the bill would rescind outstanding unobligated WIFIA appropriations from FY17-FY19 and use that funding to support new loans in FY21, hampering communities that have been following the WIFIA application process in good faith. 

NACWA, along with AWWA, WEF and AMWA, have been in touch with the Appropriations Committee and key Members of Congress with our strong concerns over this provision. The water sector also sent a letter to Congress calling on it to move forward with an FY21 bill that funds WIFIA without this harmful approach that jeopardizes prior-year projects.

The reason for appropriators’ adoption of this new approach stems from their frustration over EPA and the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB’s) lack of progress in providing WIFIA guidance on budgetary screening criteria, and reporting to Congress, as it relates to federal projects that receive WIFIA funding.

Given the historic bipartisan Congressional support for WIFIA and the quick bipartisan attention and concern this issue has garnered by several key Congressional offices, NACWA is optimistic that this harmful approach will be resolved as the FY21 process advances, and that new FY21 WIFIA funding will ultimately be provided. The Association will continue to aggressively advocate with its water sector partners on this issue. However, NACWA also encourages its members to reach out to their respective Senators and Representatives about the importance of dedicated FY21 WIFIA funding.

While the FY21 House package is expected to come to a full House vote sometime during the last two weeks of July, the Senate has yet to release its FY21 appropriations bills. At this point, a final FY21 funding package is unlikely to be finalized by the House and Senate until late this year, at which point the federal government will likely operate under a continuing resolution (CR) at current funding levels beginning October 1.

NACWA will continue working with appropriators and key members of Congress to highlight the importance of federal clean water programs and ensure the sector continues to build on the strong investment gains made over the past several years. Please contact Kristina Surfus or Jason Isakovic on NACWA’s legislative team to discuss further.