Senate Environment and Public Works Committee brings attention to water infrastructure needs

Heather A. McTavish
Government Relations Coordinator
APWA Washington, D.C. Office

With Congress engaged in controversy with Enron hearings, the President's budget, and annual appropriations battles, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee has managed to put water at the forefront of issues during the second session of the 107th Congress. Several bills making administrative changes to the State Revolving Loan Funds (SRF) including S. 1961, the Water Investment Act of 2002, will be considered this year as Congress begins the dialogue on solving the nation's water infrastructure needs.

After much anticipation, the Senate introduced the Water Investment Act (S. 1961) of 2002 Friday, February 15. The bi-partisan legislation put forth by four co-sponsors, including Sen. Jeffords (I-VT), Sen. Crapo (R-ID), Sen. Graham (D-FL), and Sen. Smith (R-NH), would provide additional funding for the SRF programs and provide administrative provisions to the funding program. The legislation is also an attempt to "update and modernize" the Clean Water Act, according to Senate staff.

EPW Chairman Jeffords noted, "the Water Investment Act of 2002 seeks to provide additional resources to states and localities to meet water infrastructure needs. Simultaneously, it seeks to move the state-of-the-art in water program management forward by increasing the flexibility offered to states in administering their water programs." Ranking member Bob Smith (R-NH) believes the legislation "will provide communities throughout the nation with essential resources to defray the costs of federal mandates and meet their sewage and drinking water needs."

The bill authorizes $35 billion over five years split between both the Clean Water SRF and the Drinking Water SRF. The Clean Water SRF would be funded at $20 billion, while the Drinking Water SRF is funded at $15 billion beginning in Fiscal Year (FY) 2002. The legislation would allow states the flexibility to transfer funds from the Clean Water SRF to the Drinking Water SRF if necessary, and vice-versa. The details of the legislation include:

  • Funds for construction of treatment work, implementation of nonpoint source programs, development of estuary programs.

  • Projects that use one or more nontraditional approaches will be eligible to receive assistance.

  • Requires projects to be reviewed by State. State will fund projects "designed to achieve optimal water quality..."

  • Funding is limited for wastewater to not exceed thirty percent of annual capitalization grant to state.

  • Requires potential SRF recipients to demonstrate "technical, managerial, and financial capacity" in hopes that systems would do self assessments and become self sufficient after the five-year period.

  • S. 1961 does not include a grant program, a significant component that APWA and the Water Infrastructure Network (WIN) have been pushing for. The legislation includes a negative interest loan program and principal forgiveness program available at the option of the state for disadvantaged communities.

  • Infrastructure repair and upgrades for security measures are considered eligible expenses.
The message throughout a February 26 hearing on S. 1961 was clear, that while supporters were certainly pleased to see the Senate addressing vast water infrastructure needs, there are serious concerns about the restrictions placed on the dollars. Several local government groups feel that S. 1961 needs to be significantly streamlined to direct the bill's funds to support basic infrastructure repair and replacement, and compliance with costly regulatory requirements needs in our communities. Those organizations feel the legislation should focus on the water and wastewater infrastructure crisis this country faces, without new hurdles placed in the way of municipal access to these key funds.

In addition to the Water Investment Act of 2002, EPW and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T & I) will be considering several other water bills including:

  • S. 252, a bill to amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to authorize appropriations for state water pollution control revolving funds.

  • S. 285, amends the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to authorize the use of state revolving loan funds for construction of water conservation and quality improvements.

  • S. 503, amends the Safe Water Act to provide grants to small public drinking water systems.

  • H.R. 3792, amends the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to authorize $25 billion in funding over five years for the Clean Water SRF.
APWA has been actively involved with the Water Infrastructure Network (WIN), the broad-based coalition of local elected officials, drinking water and wastewater service providers, state environmental and health administrators, engineers, and environmentalists dedicated to preserving and protecting America's drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. The WIN report, Clean and Safe Water for the 21st Century, found that an estimated gap of $23 billion exists between current investments in infrastructure and investments needed over the next 20 years to replace aging systems and meet mandates of the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts. The second report, the WIN NOW report, outlined solutions to the federal government for a new funding program.

To reach Heather McTavish, call (202) 408-9541 or send e-mail to hmctavish@apwa.net.