Legislation provides communities access to low-cost capital to address water infrastructure needs
The American Water Works Association (AWWA) celebrated the unveiling of a Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) in two pieces of Senate legislation.
“The introduction of the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act marks an important step forward in confronting America’s urgent water infrastructure challenge,” said AWWA Executive Director David LaFrance. “WIFIA would provide communities across the U.S. with access to low-cost capital to address their most significant water infrastructure needs, without adding to the long-term federal deficit. It would fill a significant gap between what current water infrastructure tools can do and what needs to be done.”
On Nov. 13, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduced a WIFIA bill in the U.S. Senate, S.3626. On Nov. 15, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on a draft of the Water Resources Development Act, which also included WIFIA. Details in both pieces of legislation are likely to undergo adjustments.
AWWA and its partners in the water community have been working for the introduction of WIFIA legislation for the past few years, testifying before Congress multiple times and approaching legislators with the concept at the annual Water Matters! Fly In. In February 2012, AWWA released its “Buried No Longer: Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge” report, which demonstrates that more than $1 trillion will be needed over the next 25 years to replace and expand aging drinking water infrastructure. Wastewater needs are similar in scope.
“Local rates and charges will remain—and should remain—the cornerstone of water utility finance,” LaFrance said. “However, the enormity of today’s water infrastructure challenge requires smart, innovative new financing tools. By providing low-interest loans to communities, WIFIA would reduce the cost of large infrastructure projects by hundreds of millions of dollars and ease rate pressure on consumers. It strikes just the right balance between local responsibility and a federal ‘helping hand’.”
AWWA, the largest U.S. water association with more than 50,000 members, believes WIFIA should complement—not replace—existing State Revolving Funds (SRFs), by specifically addressing projects that are too big for most SRFs to fund. WIFIA could also allow multiple smaller projects to be packaged into a single WIFIA application, ensuring that the benefits of the program are available to communities of any size and circumstance.
“Water and wastewater services are essential for public health protection, fire protection, economic vitality and the quality of life we enjoy. When we invest in our water systems, we also create jobs that are critical to reviving our economy. The U.S. Department of Commerce in 2008 estimated that adding one new job in local water creates 3.68 jobs in the national economy to support it.”