In light of continuing budget cuts, task force will consider new funding options
Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell has established a high-level task force through executive order that will evaluate what is needed to ensure Pennsylvania maintains a sustainable water and wastewater infrastructure in light of continued cuts from the federal government in recent years.
“Our water and wastewater infrastructure is aging," Rendell said. "Pennsylvania is facing nearly $20 billion in unmet water-related infrastructure needs, and that doesn't even take into account ongoing capital costs and expenses associated with operations and maintenance responsibilities. We need to begin developing a comprehensive plan now that supports a sustainable network of systems to protect public health, and ensure citizens and businesses don't lose out on the quality and dependable services they have come to expect."
A federal Clean Water Needs Survey found that Pennsylvania is facing nearly $11 billion in unmet drinking water infrastructure needs and at least $7.2 billion in unmet wastewater infrastructure needs.
Rendell signed Executive Order 2008-02 on Feb. 28, establishing the
Sustainable Water Infrastructure Task Force, which is to analyze issues related to cost-effective and sustainable investment in the state's water and sewer infrastructure.
The task force is to consider new funding options and non-structural alternatives to capital upgrades, such as nutrient credit trading, water re-use and conservation. It is responsible for developing a report by Oct. 1 that provides recommendations and financing options to support water-related services in the governor's fiscal year 2009-10 budget proposal.
Members of the task force are to include representatives of the administration, general assembly, academia, the state's Office of Consumer Advocate, as well as local government and municipal associations.
"Shrinking support from the federal government means the financial burden associated with the needed work is increasingly falling on states and local municipalities," Rendell said. "The commonwealth alone has suffered a 50% cut in the federal funds we had received previously to support water infrastructure. Without that needed support, our economy, environment and quality of life will suffer."
Rendell pointed to continued cuts in the federal Clean Water State Revolving Fund—one of the state's most important tools for funding water infrastructure improvements. Pennsylvania's share of the state revolving fund program has been cut by approximately half in the past three years, down $30 million to $27 million, while President Bush's upcoming fiscal year budget proposal calls for another $330 million in cuts to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—largely aimed at wastewater projects.
The president requested only $555 million for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund in FY 2009, which would be the lowest level of funding for the program in its history if enacted.
"While I've called on Congress to restore these valuable funds, we must take steps to ensure we have reliable systems in place that deliver dependable services," Rendell said. "The high-level task force I'm establishing through this executive order will focus on finding solutions to Pennsylvania's drinking water and wastewater system needs, either through new funding sources or cost-effective, non-structural alternatives.
"Pennsylvania needs a comprehensive strategy to ensure the long-term sustainability of its water infrastructure. Without one, our ability to tackle the serious environmental and economic infrastructure challenges facing our communities will be jeopardized."