DWSRF, WIFIA Funding Would Increase Under House Spending Bill

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Under a House spending bill approved in July, the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund would receive its highest funding level since 2010.

In July, the House of Representatives approved fiscal year 2017 (FY17) Interior-EPA appropriations legislation that includes tens of millions of additional dollars for drinking water infrastructure, but a presidential veto threat and Congress’ departure for a seven-week recess make the bill’s potential uncertain.

The bill would fund EPA and Interior Department activities throughout the 2017 fiscal year. Although it would reduce overall EPA spending by more than $150 million to $7.98 billion total, the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) would receive its highest funding level since the 2010 fiscal year, partly in response to the nation’s water infrastructure needs that gained prominence in the aftermath of the Flint water crisis.

DWSRF funding would increase by $207 million to $1.07 billion next year, and the bill would provide an additional $45 million for loan subsidies through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) pilot program, a sum that could likely be leveraged into $450 million to several billion dollars’ worth of low-interest loans for major water and wastewater infrastructure projects.

Funding for the Clean Water SRF would be reduced by nearly $400 million to an even $1 billion total.

Spurred by the events in Flint, an amendment from Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) added to the bill in July would allow states to set aside additional DWSRF dollars in FY17 to help cities and towns address public health emergencies related to elevated lead levels in drinking water supplies. Kildee also added another amendment that would provide $3 million for water testing in Flint.

Despite the bill’s strong investment in drinking water infrastructure, H.R. 5538 attracted broad opposition from Democrats due to numerous policy riders attached by Republican lawmakers. One such rider would block implementation of the Obama Administration’s Clean Water Rule, while others would attempt to address the California drought by lessening Endangered Species Act protections for delta smelt. The White House cited these riders and EPA spending cuts in a veto threat against the bill, though the message also noted the Obama Administration’s support for the bill’s WIFIA and SRF funding allotments.

H.R. 5538 is not expected to make it quickly to the president’s desk in any case, as Congress has departed Washington for its summer recess, and lawmakers are not likely to continue consideration of individual spending bills when they return in September. But the water infrastructure funding levels included in the bill could be carried over for inclusion in an omnibus FY17 appropriations bill that Congress may consider later this year.

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