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Biden’s Build Back Better Plan Prioritizes Clean Water - What Does This Mean for NACWA Members?

Apr 7, 2021

On March 31st, President Biden released his Build Back Better plan, outlining his vision for mobilizing the country to strengthen the nation’s infrastructure, improve economic competitiveness, and address climate change. In its plan, the Administration has proposed a total of $111 billion dollars in clean water and drinking water investments.

Build Back Better outlines investment priorities in myriad aspects of traditional “hard infrastructure” as well as in human infrastructure and innovation— from water utilities to roads, to housing and health care, to strengthening America’s manufacturing competitiveness. Crucially, the water sector is well-positioned as a priority for investment. Top-line levels for key elements of infrastructure include:

  • $111 billion for clean and drinking water  
  • $100 billion for broadband
  • $100 billion for the energy sector
  • $50 billion for investments in federal programs to advance resilience, including nature-based infrastructure
  • $115 billion to modernize bridges, highways, roads, and main streets
  • $85 billion for transit
  • $80 billion to Amtrak
  • $174 billion for competitiveness in the electric vehicle market
  • $25 billion for airports

The plan proposes prioritizing federal spending on several aspects of water quality – directing $56 billion toward upgrading and modernizing America’s wastewater, stormwater, and drinking water systems through grants and low-cost loan financing. NACWA's priority will be to maximize grant funding to utilities. Another $45 billion goes specifically toward a goal of removing 100% of lead service lines across the country, and $10 billion toward monitoring and remediating PFAS in drinking water.

NACWA has long argued that investment in water infrastructure should be on par with investment in surface transportation infrastructure. And that parity is achieved in the Build Back Better plan, with water’s $111 billion allotment almost matching the $115 billion for roads and bridges. This is a significant achievement for the water sector. Upon the plan’s release, NACWA issued a statement to the press which can be read here, in part:

“The public clean water sector applauds President Biden’s commitment to strengthening federal investment in water infrastructure. Safe water is as important as safe roadways, and the numbers proposed in the President’s plan are a good starting point to increase federal investment in water infrastructure. Clean and safe water is vital to economic opportunity, controlling the spread of disease and chronic health problems, and providing a healthy environment for communities to thrive. Water deserves a full commitment from the federal government as a true funding partner.”

So, what does this mean for clean water agencies? In short, infrastructure investment negotiations are just heating up in Washington, D.C. The plan itself does not provide new spending unless Congress acts, passing legislation for the President to sign into law. Build Back Better is simply the Administration’s pitch to Congress and the American people. Its details are purposely light—a mere 25 pages cover the $2.25 Trillion proposal—and it will need to navigate an arduous legislative process ahead.

On Monday, April 5th the Senate Parliamentarian advised that the Senate could pass additional spending bills by a simple majority vote. Congressional leadership was waiting on this determination, which will help provide guide the legislative path Congress begins to pursue.

NACWA will remain closely engaged with Capitol Hill throughout the process to influence the negotiations. Over the coming weeks and months, the goal for the water sector is to ensure that water stays front of mind as Congress works to advance infrastructure legislation.

The recent testimony of NACWA Board Member Oluwole (OJ) McFoy before the U.S. House  and NACWA Vice President Kishia Powell before the U.S. Senate helped set the tone for prioritizing clean water. We urge all utilities to engage in communicating to policymakers, including during Water Week 2021 in late April – a unifying opportunity for the sector to speak with one voice and rally around the need to prioritize water.

NACWA members with any questions can contact Jason Isakovic or Kristina Surfus.

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