NACWA: Now Is the Time to Advance Clean Water Infrastructure

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By Jason Isakovic

Public clean water sewer and stormwater services are an aspect of everyday life that often goes unnoticed by the hundreds of millions of Americans that depend on them. These essential services provide communities throughout the country, both small and large, the ability to ensure homes, businesses, hospitals, and schools operate safely and efficiently while also protecting public health and the environment and growing their local economies.

Many of those in the public clean water sector are proud that their work often goes unnoticed because it is a sign that things are operating as they should – and the clean water services they provide to their residents and ratepayers remains safe, reliable, and affordable. They are true stewards of their communities who, as they deal with aging infrastructure, growing water quality challenges, increasing federal compliance obligations, and stagnant federal investment, are being asked to do more with less.

Fortunately, over the past several years, thanks in large part to the strong advocacy of the public utility sector and local officials, the increasing need for clean water investment has garnered greater federal recognition. President Donald Trump included clean water as a core tenet of his larger infrastructure proposal last year. Congress came together to pass into law several key pieces of bipartisan clean water legislation including codifying the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Integrated Planning (IP) approach into law and providing communities with critical new flexibilities in meeting their Clean Water Act (CWA) obligations, passing a Farm Bill to provide important new policy and funding tools to better address many of the nation’s water quality challenges holistically, authorizing clean water programs and funding in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), and providing for the first time in several years increased federal appropriations for clean water programs.

Jason Isakovic

Strong advocacy has shown Members of Congress are understanding more and more the growing needs of their communities and the importance of clean water investment for their constituencies. It is not a Democrat or Republican issue, but an issue that permeates into every community large and small across the country.

Last year’s congressional elections set a 116th Congress that is now a bicameral party split between House Majority Democrats and Senate Majority Republicans in what is shaping up to be a politically contentious two years ahead of the 2020 Presidential election. However, this dynamic provides this Congress an opportunity to build on the momentum of recent bipartisan clean water policy achievements.

Most notable thus far is bipartisan legislation that was recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to reauthorize and increase funding levels for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) – a critical and proven tool for supporting local investments in water infrastructure.

The federal share of our nation’s total water infrastructure investment has been in decline for many years, with recent studies showing over 90 percent of the nation’s wastewater and drinking water investment comes from local and/or state spending. With EPA estimates showing that our nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure will require more than $650 billion in investment over the next 20 years just to maintain current levels of service, dedicated and increased levels for the CWSRF are needed more than ever. If enacted into law, this bipartisan legislation will provide communities the certainty they need to ensure federal investment is a tool at their disposal to aid them in building a 21st century clean water infrastructure system.

The legislation also provides a legislative marker in ensuring that clean water plays a pivotal role in any larger comprehensive infrastructure package that may advance this Congress. While much of the focus has remained on highways and other types of infrastructure, clean water must remain a key part of a larger package if the Administration and Congress are serious about modernizing our nation’s overall aging infrastructure and expanding economic growth.

The groundwork has been laid for the clean water sector to be in a position for success. Now is the time for the sector, utilities and other stakeholders to redouble their strong advocacy push and strike while the iron is hot to ensure that clean water priorities continue to be advanced.

Jason Isakovic serves as one of two directors of legislative affairs for the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) in Washington, D.C. He has 10 years of experience working on legislative issues on Capitol Hill, most recently serving as legislative director for Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio). He also worked with the late Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio).

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