House passes comprehensive water resources legislation

September 14, 2018

Leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate announced a deal on comprehensive water infrastructure legislation on September 11 called America’s Water Infrastructure Act with the legislation quickly passing the House by a unanimous vote on September 13.

The two-year legislation primarily deals with surface water improvements such as dams, reservoirs, flood control, and navigation, but also reauthorizes several important programs supporting small system drinking water infrastructure and managed aquifer recharge. The bill only authorizes spending levels for programs that now must receive funding through the annual appropriations process.

The bill may be taken up soon in the Senate, although any one senator can block the legislation, and there is the threat of politicking over unrelated topics delaying the bill’s consideration.

Highlights from the legislation are below.

Drinking Water State Revolving Fund

The legislation reauthorizes support for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) at increased levels. The program is currently funded at $1.16 billion for fiscal year 2018. The DWSRF is the primary program supporting the improvement of drinking water across the country and ensuring sources of drinking water are free of contaminants.

Funds are allocated to states using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment and can be used to support drinking water quality improvement, well rehabilitation or development of eligible sources, and water storage tank upgrades, among other activities.

Nearly doubling the funds by 2021 will go a long way in helping states relieve the backlog of required infrastructure improvements. Suggested increases are:

  • $1.17 billion in fiscal 2019
  • $1.30 billion in fiscal 2020
  • $1.95 billion in fiscal 2021.

Drinking water infrastructure resilience and sustainability

Grant funding for communities to support hazard resiliency programs is authorized at $4 million. Activities that could receive funding include source water protection, watershed management, and conservation measures.

Monitoring unregulated contaminants

The legislation requires public water systems serving communities between 3,300 and 10,000 to begin monitoring for unregulated contaminants, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS. The provision would also ensure a representative sample of public water systems serving fewer than 3,300 are monitored.

There is $15 million authorized for each fiscal year to support the costs of monitoring.

Water Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act

The legislation would reauthorize the Water Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program at $50 million for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. WIFIA allows states to receive financing for a range of primarily large-scale infrastructure projects such as treatment plants, desalination facilities, and recharge projects. NGWA was integral in ensuring managed aquifer recharge projects are eligible to receive WIFIA funding.

The legislation would also allow states to finance up to 100 percent of a project’s cost as long as the state’s financing authority is responsible for repayment of the loan in the event of a default.