I have long talked about the importance of funding and building infrastructure that is sustainable and safe for everyone. In November 2021, we saw a big move from the Biden administration, with the passing of the IIJA (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act). The hope here was it would lead to more jobs, more projects, and safer infrastructure. But now we need to take a closer look at what has really transpired in the past two years to see if we are truly making any progress with our infrastructure.
As one example, the NUCA (National Utility Contractors Assn.) is concerned the government is underfunding water infrastructure in particular. Let’s look back for a bit of context first.
In 1987 and 1996, respectively, Congress established dedicated resources through the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act to fund the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water SRF. The objective here is to provide capital to revolving loan funds, which states and territories use to make subsidized loans for water and wastewater infrastructure projects. Since their establishment, these low-interest loans have saved communities billions of dollars in water infrastructure, according to NUCA.
As we know, the 2021 IIJA, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, allocated $23 billion in the next four years to both the Drinking Water SRF and Clean Water SRF, each administered by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). NUCA says programs were supposed to be expanded to $3 billion each under the 2021 infrastructure law but are relying on annual appropriations to help meet what is still a huge funding gap.
Here’s the rub. In FY22 and FY23 Congress did not appropriate funds at the levels authorized for drinking water and clean water infrastructure spending in IIJA—only 59.6% in FY23, according to NUCA. In July 2023, the House Appropriation Committee cut SRF funding by two-thirds. Other IIJA water programs went without funding.
NUCA is not pleased with the recent passage of the 2024 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies bill, H.R. 4821, on November 3. At the time, Doug Carlson, CEO, NUCA, explains that it is now up to the Senate to save America’s clean water resources, as it urges Congress to adopt the Senate’s version of this appropriations bill, which at least maintains these critical state revolving funds at current levels.
“Our nation faces hundreds of billions of water and wastewater infrastructure repairs across the next 20 years,” he said at the time. “American community leaders cannot afford the cuts passed in today’s House bill—for the sake of public health and civilization, clean drinking water and safe wastewater management must be provided to its citizens. NUCA and our members are very disappointed that the House Majority could not reach that level of basic support for their constituents.”
If we look back to March 2021—before the infrastructure act passed—the ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) released its 2021 Infrastructure Report Card. Released every four years, 2021 was the first time the overall GPA was out of the D range. Achieving a C- in 2021 was progress, but there was still much work to be done. We will have to wait until 2025 before we will be able to see what the next Infrastructure Report Card will reveal, but it certainly will be telling if the funding is making a difference—and perhaps it will give us a glimpse into where funding is helping and where it is not.
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