We’ve all been keeping a wary eye on Washington DC as of late—fully aware that when a final budget is approved, we can expect to find ourselves on the receiving end of some serious cuts to public works funding. In fact, President Barack Obama has already included cuts to water infrastructure spending at the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers as part of his proposed a $3.72-trillion budget for fiscal 2012.
While the proposed 2012 budget reduces funding for the EPA by 13%—down to $8.973 billion from the fiscal 2010 budget of $10.3 billion—it’s the Corps of Engineers on the receiving end of an eye-popping slash in funds: from $4.609 billion down to $913 million, achieved primarily by reducing some water infrastructure programs and all of the Corps funding for local water and wastewater treatment projects. These cuts—which are being justified as necessary in order to meet the administration's goal to reduce the federal budget deficit by half within the next two years while freezing non-security discretionary spending—include additional cutbacks in the following areas:
* a reduction in funding for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) to $990 million in fiscal 2012, down from $1.387 billion in 2010
* reduced funding for the Clean Water SRF, which will now receive $1.55 billion, down from $2.1 billion in 2010
* a requirement that states use 10% of their Drinking Water SRF funding and 20% of the Clean Water money for “green infrastructure” projects
* a request that congress drop $157 million of water infrastructure "earmarks”
And while the EPA is banking on making up some of the difference with additional ARRA funding, the truth of the matter is that the EPA, the Government Accountability Office, and the Water Infrastructure Network have all estimated the nation already faces a $500-billion funding shortfall for water infrastructure over the next two decades. As we’ve already noted, these proposed cuts come at a time when states are also struggling to meet demand while complying with federal regulations like the Clean Water Act (CWA).
In response to the proposed budget cuts, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) released a statement highlighting the plight of state and local water purveyors, saying “Budget cuts of any kind at this time to the CWA program ignore the very real financial constraints of states and municipalities to implement a growing array of increasingly costly CWA requirements. While NACWA recognizes the austere budgetary times under which the federal government must operate, these same circumstances are being experienced in municipalities and rate-paying households across the country.”
In the face of this potentially devastating budget, both the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and the Water Environment Federation (WEF) are meeting this week in Washington DC as part of the Water Matters! Fly In. The AWWA and the WEF have combined forces to “push for smart approaches to water infrastructure finance and regulation through more than 400 meetings on Capitol Hill.” The combined effort of two of North America’s largest water associations will bring together over 170 delegates from a variety of water resource management fields (including water purveyors, wastewater managers, and stormwater utilities) from 49 states and Puerto Rico for the event.
In a statement, AWWA President Joseph Mantua said, “Assuring reliable and safe water resources and infrastructure must be a top national priority. Our water and wastewater systems are critical to the protection of public health and safety, our economy, and the quality of life we enjoy.”
Over the course of more than 400 meetings scheduled to take place on Capital Hill, “Water Matters!”, delegates hope to garner congressional support for a set of key issues that include:
* improving water infrastructure finance tools, including increased support the creation of a new water infrastructure finance mechanism to provide low-cost capital to water utilities needing to invest in infrastructure, as well as to State Revolving Funds
* renewing the federal partnership in meeting clean and drinking water challenges, including a renewed commitment to help states and localities meet their obligations to provide clean and safe water to their communities, funding and strengthening of Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs, continued funding for Public Water System Supervision grants, State CWA program grants, and the CWA Section 319 (nonpoint source) program
* improving clean water requirements so that any proposed changes to the CWA or the Safe Drinking Water Act include provisions to provide communities with both flexibility and affordability while incorporating sustainability and support for a watershed approach to protecting and restoring water quality
* supporting scientific processes when setting drinking water standards
“Together, WEF and AWWA represent a strong, united voice for water,” said WEF President Jeanette Brown. “More than ever, our members recognize that the water sector is not easily defined as ‘water’ or ‘wastewater.’ Our conversations this week will remind elected leaders the role that water infrastructure plays in assuring clean water and the economic vitality of our communities.”
So what do you think? How do we reconcile our desire for a balanced budget with the pressing needs of our crumbling infrastructure? Is the current situation indicative of a need to change the way we fund our public works? Should we be focusing on a funding solution that will separate infrastructure and public works from the vagaries of a national budget so that real future planning can take place? And if so, what will that solution look like?