NACWA, AMWA among supporters of new water affordability legislation

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) have extended support for new legislation aimed at improving the affordability of water and wastewater service for low-income customers.

Introduced led by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Programs Act of 2018, would establish a pilot federal assistance program for water ratepayers. It also fleshes out a concept proposed by NACWA several years ago, suggesting that – similar to the energy sector’s Low Income Household Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) – there may be a role for the federal government to offer assistance to communities and low-income ratepayers in paying water and sewer rates. Such assistance would reflect the fact that largely-unfunded federal mandates frequently drive wastewater rate increases, and that many communities are challenged in charging the true cost of service and compliance because of the inability of lower-income ratepayers to pay increased rates.

AMWA recently sent a letter of support to a pair of senators who are preparing to introduce legislation that would create two new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pilot programs intended to help low-income households pay their bills.

AMWA’s letter cited the high cost of drinking water infrastructure needs and noted that increasing rates necessary to cover these expenses will pose challenges for low-income households. AMWA said it is committed to working work with Sens. Cardin and Wicker to advance the bill, though the association said no immediate action is expected on Capitol Hill.

NACWA also aided in developing broad stakeholder engagement and provided input and feedback during the drafting process over the past year.

The newly-introduced legislation led by Sens. Cardin and Wicker is the first bipartisan effort, an important development for likelihood of success of any program over the long-term. In drafting the legislation, Congressional staff took significant efforts to seek input and buy-in from diverse water sector, environmental NGOs, and low-income advocate communities, according to NACWA.

Under the proposal, at least 64 pilot communities would be selected for a five-year grant which would direct federal funding to assist low-income households in paying their water and sewer bills. Priority in choosing the 64 pilots would be given to communities and utilities that have a history of significant rate increases, obligation under a federal clean water consent decree, and the ability to provide local or State matching funds.

The legislation also would require a balance among the geographic location and size of communities selected. Small/rural communities selected for a pilot program would work with their States on grant implementation. The proposal would require a report to Congress on the outcomes of the pilot grant program. It would also require EPA to conduct a needs assessment to address water and sewer rate issues across the United States.

Along with NACWA and AMWA, industry support for the affordability legislation includes the Water Environment Federation (WEF), American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), American Public Works Association (APWA), and others.

This news post has been updated from a previous version published on Oct. 8.

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