Biden signs Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act with funding boosts for the water sector

After months of negotiation and several delayed votes, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the bipartisan, $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act this month, which was first approved by the Senate in August. President Joe Biden signed the bill into law on Monday.

According to the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), which has been closely following progress on the legislation along with other water sector groups, the House made no changes to the Senate’s version of the bill before passing it.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $550 billion in new spending. For water infrastructure, it carries $48.4 billion over five years for drinking water and wastewater spending at the U.S. EPA, including:

  • $11.713 billion for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF). In FY22 $1.902 billion will be appropriated, followed by $2.202 billion in FY23, $2.403 billion in FY24, and $2.603 billion each in FY25 and FY26. The minimum state match will be 10% in FY22 and FY23 (compared to the normal 20%), and states must award 49% of their funds as grants or full principal forgiveness loans.
  • $11.713 billion for the Clean Water SRF, in the same annual amounts and at the same terms.
  • $15 billion for lead service line replacement projects and “associated activities directly connected to the identification, planning, design, and replacement of lead service lines.” The funding will be appropriated evenly at $3 billion per year from FY22 through FY26. The funds will be provided to states via the DWSRF, but no state match is required and 49% of funds must be awarded by states as grants or principal forgiveness loans.
  • $4 billion to address emerging contaminants in drinking water “with a focus on” PFAS. The funding will be appropriated evenly at $800 million per year from FY22 through FY26. The funds will be provided to states via the DWSRF with no required state match. All these funds must be awarded by states as grants or principal forgiveness loans.
  • $5 billion to help small and disadvantaged communities address emerging drinking water contaminants. The funding will be appropriated evenly at $1 billion per year from FY22 through FY26 and will be provided to states for projects that address emerging contaminants in communities eligible for assistance under section 1459A of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
  • $1 billion to help wastewater systems address emerging contaminants. The first $100 million will be appropriated in FY22, and an additional $225 million per year will be made available for FY23-FY26. Funds will be distributed through the Clean Water SRF and will not be subject to state matching requirements.

The bill also authorizes several new EPA programs supported by some water sector groups, such as a new climate resilience program for drinking water systems that has been long championed by AMWA and a low-income water ratepayer assistance pilot program. However, those programs would not receive funding through the bill and would instead have to wait for dollars through subsequent appropriations legislation.

“NACWA applauds the Biden Administration and leaders in both the House and Senate for working across party lines to pass critical infrastructure legislation that includes significant federal investments in public clean water services for state and local communities,” said Adam Krantz, CEO of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), which has also led the charge on water infrastructure efforts in Congress.

“Just as roads, bridges, and broadband contribute to vibrant communities, the public clean water sector is vital to America’s public health and the environment,” Krantz said. “This legislation takes strides to help provide all households with clean and safe water services at an affordable cost. NACWA’s members look forward to working with stakeholders at all levels of government to implement this legislation.”

Krantz added however that the bill only contains roughly half the amount initially proposed for water infrastructure by the Biden Administration, urging continued support for water provisions in Biden’s Build Back Better legislation.

AWWA released a statement that read in part: “As the largest association of water professionals in the world, AWWA is grateful to U.S. Congress and President Biden for making water infrastructure a priority in enacting the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. By reauthorizing the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act and doubling funding for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, the federal government is helping states and local water providers to spur on critical water projects. In addition, the $15 billion designated for lead service line replacement is a welcome down payment on what could be a $60 billion challenge.”

Radhika Fox, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Water, tweeted:

Passage of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

According to reports, the vote on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in the House was 228 to 206. Thirteen Republicans joined 215 Democrats in favor of the bill, while six Democrats sided with 200 Republicans who voted against it.

“the $15 billion designated for lead service line replacement is a welcome down payment on what could be a $60 billion challenge”

AWWA statement on passage of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

Lawmakers also set the stage for the House to vote this month on the Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376), a $1.75 trillion social spending bill backed by progressives that includes additional funding for lead service line replacement and low-income water ratepayer assistance.

Democratic House leaders backed off of an earlier plan to have the chamber vote on the Build Back Better Act. Instead, the chamber approved a procedural vote that sets in motion plans for the House to vote on the measure during the week of Nov. 15. According to AMWA, the Build Back Better bill includes nearly $10 billion for EPA and USDA programs to help communities replace lead service lines and $225 million for new EPA grants to states and tribes to reduce the water rates and arrearages of low-income households. But should H.R. 5376 win House approval, it would go on to the Senate where additional changes are likely to be offered, said AMWA.

Several water industry associations and construction organizations have reacted to the news of the rare and historic passage of a federal infrastructure spending bill.

“We commend the House for joining the Senate in prioritizing American communities by passing this bipartisan infrastructure legislation and we are encouraged that President Biden has indicated he will sign the bill quickly to ensure our communities receive these long-awaited resources soon, allowing critical projects to move forward,” said Dennis D. Truax, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).  

Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America, also reacted favorably to the news but cautioned against “social infrastructure” measures in the bill and the Build Back Better legislation.

“Because of [this] vote, state and local officials will be able to invest in a more efficient supply chain network. They will also be able to improve roads and bridges to make them safer and more reliable. Metro areas will be able to better maintain and expand transit systems. And water authorities will be able to further safeguard the quality of local drinking water, among other improvements funded by this bill. The measure also provides needed investments to make infrastructure more resilient to extreme weather events,” Sandherr said.

“At the same time, we urge members of the Senate and the Biden administration to reject the more partisan, and potentially damaging so-called social infrastructure bill. This measure will significantly expand the role of the federal government in many aspects of the economy. The last thing the economy needs now are the kind of self-inflicted wounds that are the hallmark of this social infrastructure measure.”

Robert Powelson, president and CEO of the National Association of Water Companies, representing private and investor-owned water systems, issued this statement in response to the legislation:

“The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress and championed by President Biden is a milestone for infrastructure investment in the U.S. The bill includes important priorities for NAWC companies – including common sense reforms to the income exemption for contributions in aid of construction and government grants, an EPA-based pilot low-income assistance program, and a required study into compliance rates of water and wastewater systems nationwide. The bill also includes billions of dollars to fix the country’s ailing water infrastructure that is a much-needed investment for this essential part of the American economy.”

Mami Hara, US Water Alliance CEO, said: “We are thrilled to see this historic investment in our nation’s water infrastructure, and we look forward to deploying our network to achieve the best implementation for these funds. We also look forward to the forthcoming Reconciliation legislation, which also potentially includes additional important water and climate provisions. Investing in infrastructure—specifically water—has vast support from the overwhelming majority of Americans. Water is too essential to wait.” 

Water Reuse

Among the provisions in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the bill invests $1 billion over five years in water recycling programs for the Western United States.

According to the WateReuse Association, this is a historic investment in water recycling, which until now has received roughly $65 million per year through the Bureau of Reclamation. The bill also directs the Administration to establish a federal Interagency Working Group on Water Reuse, which will break down silos, leverage resources throughout the federal family, and facilitate stakeholder engagement on water recycling.

“Communities across the country are incorporating water reuse into their water management strategies as a proven method for ensuring a safe, reliable, locally controlled water supply. With enactment of the bi-partisan infrastructure investment package, Congress and the Administration recognize the essential role water recycling is playing in helping communities confront the impacts of climate change and build more resilient and sustainable water resources for their communities. This is an important day for water in the U.S.,” said Patricia Sinicropi, executive director of the WateReuse Association.

Within the $1 billion for Western water recycling is $550 million for the Title XVI Water Reuse Grants Program and $450 million for a new competitive grant program for large-scale water recycling projects. Both programs will be administered by the Bureau of Reclamation.

With enactment of this package, Congress also recognized that communities throughout the nation are making investments in water recycling by authorizing the Alternative Water Source Grants Pilot Program, the first nationwide grant program to support investments in water recycling. This program is on target to receive funding through the Build Back Better Act.

This news was updated from an earlier version posted on Nov. 8. Sources: AMWA, NACWA, ASCE, WateReuse Association.

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