Jan 18, 2022

Historic Investment, Historic Change

Looking at the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill & how it could impact the water industry

Dr. Andrew Sawyers
Dr. Andrew Sawyers, director of the Office of Wastewater Management for the U.S. EPA

In the water sector, we know that water is life. It not only keeps us healthy, but it supports our communities, ecosystems and economies. Investing in our water infrastructure is a powerful way to cause cascading improvements in the lives of people across the U.S. and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is a historically big and bold investment in these vital systems. It includes $50 billion to the U.S. EPA to strengthen the nation’s drinking water, wastewater and storm water infrastructure ­— the single largest investment in water that the federal government has ever made.

This year, EPA will begin investing this funding in communities, with the majority going through the State Revolving Funds (SRFs). The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s historic investment in the SRF programs is a testament to their success. For decades, the SRFs have been the foundation of water infrastructure investments, providing low-cost financing for local projects across America. We’ve made huge progress together: states, tribal nations, and the EPA have stewarded more than $190 billion in the Clean Water and Drinking Water SRF funds over several decades.

Now, we have the opportunity to do more. Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, nearly $44 billion in SRF funding will be provided to states, tribes and territories over the next five years. That includes $15 billion to replace lead pipes, an additional $15.7 billion for safe drinking water, and $12.7 billion to ensure clean water.

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This investment is needed now more than ever as emerging contaminants, aging systems, the impact of climate change, and other issues increasingly challenge public health and environmental protection. Communities can find that infrastructure projects are too costly to undertake without passing on significant rate hikes to their customers. This can change with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which allows almost half of the nearly $44 billion in SRF funds to be distributed as grants or fully forgivable loans. This will go a long way to empowering communities to address necessary upgrades while supporting water affordability.

With this funding — and the structure of grants and low-interest loans — we can make real improvements in communities that need them most. Every state in America has disadvantaged communities that have deeply rooted water challenges. Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, states have an unprecedented opportunity to correct this disparity. We know that economically stressed communities often lack the financial, technical and managerial capacity to access traditional SRF loans. It is a top priority for the EPA to ensure these communities are prioritized under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. To further aid states, tribes, local governments and water systems, EPA will provide technical assistance to help disadvantaged communities overcome barriers in applying for and receiving loans and grants through the SRFs.

We know we cannot do this important work alone. This historic opportunity calls for strong partnership, and EPA will work with every level of government to ensure that communities see the full benefits of this investment. Effective partnerships will be essential to deploying these funds and maximizing the impact in addressing urgent water challenges facing our communities. We know that we share the same goals: bringing clean, affordable and safe drinking water and wastewater services to everyone in America. We will work to identify the tools, resources and targeted technical assistance that will best support states in achieving these goals, as we work toward an effective, efficient and equitable implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to strengthen and rebuild America’s water infrastructure. We — EPA, states, tribes and localities — can work together to address our critical water infrastructure challenges and provide long-overdue assistance to communities who need it most. This is a monumental moment for us to build resilient water infrastructure that will support public health, environmental progress, and economic vitality for generations to come. For more information, visit: https://www.epa.gov/infrastructure/water-infrastructure-investments.

About the author

Andrew Sawyers is director of the Office of Wastewater Management for the U.S. EPA. Sawyers can be reached at sawyers.andrew@epa.gov.

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