NACWA Report - U.S. Clean Water Utilities Make Gains on Climate Adaptation Resiliency Efforts; Costs to Meet Operational and Maintenance Needs of Wastewater Sector Through 2050 Will Exceed $360 Billion
WASHINGTON, D.C., NEW YORK, AND LOS ANGELES (December 13, 2023) – Public wastewater and stormwater utilities impacted by changes in climate patterns, such as increased frequency and intensity of storms, rising sea levels, increased wildfire risk, extreme heat, and variations in precipitation patterns, are racing to implement much-needed climate adaptation and resiliency initiatives. Across the US, a growing number of successful climate adaptation and resilience initiatives are already underway, and many utilities have quickly adapted to safeguard operations and continue protecting public health and the environment. Despite a recent federal focus on infrastructure development, however, securing adequate funding in the water sector to support critical climate resiliency programs is not guaranteed.
The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) today held a virtual press conference with the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection to tout these utility resiliency initiatives and to issue a new report, “Resiliency in the Balance: Funding Challenges for Clean Water Utilities in Addressing Climate Adaptation.”
The NACWA report examines funding challenges facing the clean water utility sector in advancing resiliency efforts, while also highlighting stand-out clean water agencies in New York City and Los Angeles County that are innovating and developing regional climate adaptation and resiliency programs in the fields of water reuse, green infrastructure and watershed-based approaches, as well as energy efficiency and clean/renewable energy generation and decarbonization.
Robert Ferrante, Chief Engineer and General Manager, Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts said: “Public clean water utilities are leading the charge across the nation to address climate change and make their operations more resilient, and the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts are proud to be part of that effort. Our work to advance water reuse and harness clean energy from our operations not only benefits the customers that we serve but also advances resiliency efforts throughout Southern California and the lower Colorado River basin. We know our communities cannot survive and thrive without clean water and renewable energy, and we are committed to doing our part to create a more sustainable future.”
“Climate change is the challenge of our time. The NYC Department of Environmental Protection is taking a multi-layered approach to making our city more resilient while using green infrastructure to beautify it at the same time, serving as a model that other clean water agencies can follow. But this work can be breathtakingly expensive, and New Yorkers will see the costs of climate change in their water bills. While the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is a great start, our federal partners must ensure that cities are treated fairly by states in the distribution of climate funding,” said New York City Chief Climate Officer and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Rohit T. Aggarwala.
The NACWA report points to common misperceptions about the current state of federal water infrastructure funding – specifically the commitment to climate resilience for clean water utilities – in the wake of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). While US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and, more recently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) do provide grant and loan programs that can be used for the planning, design, and implementation of climate-resilient infrastructure, these programs are limited in size and scope.
In addition, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) created many new climate resiliency programs across the federal government. But public water utilities must compete with entities in dozens of sectors such as manufacturing, transportation, forestry, and more, and therefore access to funding will be difficult to come by.
A long-range cost assessment conducted by NACWA and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies in 2009, regarding the operation and maintenance (O&M) adaptations needed to address climate impacts on our nation’s water and wastewater utilities through 2050, found that costs to update utilities sufficiently would range between $123-252 billion. Adjusting for inflation, the O&M costs today to meet the climate adaptation and resilience needs of the water and wastewater sector today stands at over $360 billion.
Nathan Gardner-Andrews, Chief Advocacy & Policy Officer, National Association of Clean Water Agencies said, “Contrary to some of the common misperceptions, public clean water utilities from New York to California are making huge investments to address climate change and increase the resiliency of their operations and communities. But these efforts are not cheap, and continued progress will be significantly threatened if the federal government does not uphold its commitments to increase funding for clean water infrastructure. Programs such as the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) must be increased, not cut to potentially terminal levels as Congress is currently considering. The future of resiliency efforts for the entire water sector depends on strong federal support.”
For over 50 years, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) has been the nation’s recognized leader in legislative, regulatory, legal and communications advocacy on the full spectrum of clean water issues. NACWA represents public wastewater and stormwater agencies of all sizes nationwide. Our unique and growing network strengthens the advocacy voice for the public clean water sector and helps advance policies to provide affordable and sustainable clean water for all. Our vision is to advance sustainable and responsible policy initiatives that help to shape a strong and sustainable clean water future. For more information, visit us at www.nacwa.org.
LOS ANGELES COUNTY SANITATION DISTRICTS
The Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts are a public agency focused on converting waste into resources like recycled water, energy and recycled materials. The agency consists of 24 independent special districts serving about 5.5 million people in Los Angeles County.
NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION
The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) protects public health, critical quality of life issues, and the environment by supplying clean drinking water, collecting and treating wastewater, and reducing air, noise, and hazardous materials pollution.
CONTACT: Patrick Mitchell for more information or to arrange interviews with NACWA or with groups referenced in the NACWA report being issued today at email@example.com.