Briefings on key topics discussed by industry associations in Washington, D.C.
During the first week of April, virtually every water and wastewater association in the industry visited Washington, D.C., for Water Week in Washington. Throughout the week, each association and group met with legislators and regulators to learn what 2019 has in store for the industry and to impress upon those powers the issues that the associations deem important.
This year, the key talking points were appropriations slated for water and wastewater infrastructure improvements—notably the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds (DWSRF) and Clean Water State Revolving Loan Funds (CWSRF)—updates to the Lead and Copper Rule from the U.S. EPA, and the emergence and direction from the government on er- and polyflouroalkyl substances (PFAS) and perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA.)
Appropriations for WIFIA
Injecting money into the water and wastewater industry continues to be priority for many agencies, and with the passing of America’s Water Infrastructure Act last fall, there still is optimism for funding and financing in 2019. Recent proposed budget appropriations were cause for concern, but associations like the American Water Works Assn. (AWWA) seem confident they can push for appropriation improvement.
Tracy Mehan, executive director of governmental affairs for AWWA, said he and AWWA have made strong pushes for fully authorized funding of DWSRF and WIFIA.
“We want to see the fully authorized amount for the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund since we’re very lucky, very fortunate the last session to get the law reauthorized and actually—over three or so years—a doubling of the authorized amount,” Mehan said, adding WIFIA is the next hurdle. “[WIFIA] appears to be a very successful program. The EPA is saying now—looking at the current portfolio of WIFIA loans—they’re seeing a 100:1 leverage ratio in terms of payback to appropriations. It’s a good deal for taxpayers. If you’re going to invest in infrastructure, it’s a great way to do it.”
Mehan noted that WIFIA is successful due to great treasury rates, as well as virtually nonexistent default rates. Water and wastewater utilities, he noted, tend to be credit-worthy because their hard costs are more normalized than other infrastructure expenses, such as toll roads. While traffic can ebb and flow drastically, flow of water and sewer tends to be more stable month to month.
While AWWA is focused on issues specific to utilities, the Water & Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Assn. (WWEMA) views the same issues through a different lens given its membership of original equipment manufacturers. WWEMA Executive Director Vanessa Leiby said she and the membership are following the appropriations closely to understand where business opportunities will lie for 2019 and beyond.
Additionally, WWEMA is following updates on American Iron and Steel requirements for state revolving loan funds, as well as updates to Buy America programs. During Water Week, its legislative and regulations committee approved a measure to develop a position paper on the Peak Wet Weather Flows Management Rule as well.
Leiby said the biggest and most difficult concern to keep tabs on are state-by-state regulations. Many are developing their own maximum contaminant levels (MCL) for regional specific contamination and pollution issues. She said small differences in how some states address issues could present opportunities for manufacturers to provide necessary solutions to meet those criteria.
“For some of the contaminants that we’re just kind of monitoring, unless something happens, it isn’t a business opportunity, so somebody else [other associations] might be digging deeper,” Leiby said.
For the OEMs, investing in technology to address emerging contaminants can be costly, so without knowing what market is available, getting new equipment developed and into the hands of those that need it can be risky for business. For this reason, Water Week in Washington also is critical to manufacturers as regulations can go hand-in-hand with innovating new technologies.
In the past five years, the visibility and prominence of PFAS has increased dramatically. What once was discussed and mentioned mostly in the northeastern U.S. in areas of heavy industrial manufacturing—specifically teflon manufacturing—has now spread across the country. PFAS, which also is found in fire-fighting foam, is now seen as a ubiquitous contaminant and one that EPA recently announced it would create an action plan to address.
In its 72-page action plan, EPA recognizes that most people in the U.S. have been exposed to PFAS “due to their widespread use and persistence in the environment.” In its executive summary, EPA said it aims to expand toxicity information about PFAS, develop tools to characterize it and develop guidance to facilitate treatment and cleanup of groundwater contamination from it. EPA also noted that it would partner with federal agencies, states, tribes and local communities to better understand PFAS and to protect human health.
Mehan said the AWWA is researching the potential for EPA to create an MCL for PFAS similar to other contaminants.
“Whether they need one for PFAS and PFOA, that’s a big question. That’s a real big question mark, where that’s all going,” Mehan said. “It could influence other regulations down the road because there are a number of these related contaminants in the family.”