After intense negotiations, Congress will pass a final budget for fiscal year 2011 including $1.6 billion in funding cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the majority of which (approximately 66%) are taken from the Clean and Safe Drinking Water Revolving Funds (SRFs). These funds are the primary mechanisms used by the federal government to help states and municipalities improve the quality of their waterways. The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) believes that these cuts are misguided and ignore the real needs and financial constraints facing states and municipalities in meeting a growing array of costly Clean Water Act (CWA) requirements.
“If we expect to continue to enjoy the quality of life we are accustomed to, and the natural environments that we cherish, then our communities need a reliable federal partner in meeting our nation’s clean water goals,” said Ken Kirk, executive director of NACWA. “We can no longer realistically expect our nation’s water quality to improve solely on the backs of our struggling communities. Our cities and states deserve significant and reliable federal assistance, leadership and support for essential clean water infrastructure. This budget does not achieve this goal.”
When Congress enacted the CWA in 1972 it included the Construction Grants Program to help communities meet the new law’s requirements and intended the federal government would be a partner with local communities in meeting the nation’s clean water goals. At the time of its passage, Congress appropriated sufficient funding to support up to 75% of the cost to communities for compliance with the new treatment standards contained in the Act.
Today, despite a growing list of regulatory requirements stemming from the CWA, the federal government provides 1% of the more than $93 billion that local governments invest annually in water and wastewater infrastructure needs, NACWA said.
Communities are facing enormous costs associated with implementing Long-Term Control Plans (LTCPs) to reduce combine sewer overflows. Cleveland faces up to $3 billion in upgrades to its sewer system to correct its combined sewer system. St. Louis’ LTCP could potentially cost more than $4 billion to reduce overflows. EPA is requiring publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) in Florida to install costly treatment upgrades to reduce nutrients in their discharges, even though they are not the dominant source of the nutrient pollution. And EPA is now requiring POTWs that incinerate to install additional control technology to reduce air emissions.
Increasingly, communities are being asked to shoulder these growing costs on their own with dwindling federal help.
The result of this trend has been a general decline in water quality and a growing backlog of wastewater infrastructure needs in every state, which is now well documented. For example, the EPA estimates a $298-billion shortfall in clean water infrastructure funding over 20 years and the nation’s states and communities are reporting $28.6 billion in immediate clean water needs. At the same time, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ latest infrastructure report card gave the nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure a D-, the lowest grade of any infrastructure category.
NACWA believes Congress must restore the federal partnership in meeting the nation’s clean water needs with local communities. NACWA called on Congress and the Administration to work closely with it and the nation’s states and communities in developing a more flexible and cost-effective approach to CWA compliance. Such an approach would take into account the real financial constraints facing communities and would allow prioritization of competing projects based on the water quality benefits they would achieve. The Money Matters campaign seeks to make these changes and intends to work with leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to advance this proposal when it is finalized in May 2011.