Water Funding Woes

We need to replace more pipes. Image: Forbes.com.

Could water infrastructure be gaining support in Washington? The recent inability of Congress to support funding to address the Flint, Michigan drinking water crisis would suggest not, but Politico reports that “there is a growing belief—on both sides of the aisle—that it’s time for the federal government to start investing much more in water infrastructure.” <link learn news item flint-mi-a-call-to-rebuild-america>LCC has long advocated that we need more public investment in the pipes and plants that provide us clean water.

The funding situation wasn’t always so dire. Following the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, Congress increased their spending on wastewater infrastructure from $2 billion in 1970 to $10 billion in 1976 (inflation adjusted to 2014 dollars). At its peak in the late 1970s, Washington paid for nearly one-third of America’s water infrastructure, but today it pays just four percent. Not only is Washington paying less, their aid has transitioned from grants to communities to loans. The additional financing burden falls to state and local governments. While support may be growing for clean water projects, there is still substantial disagreement between the parties on Capitol Hill about what form that support should take: grants, loans, or other creative financing schemes. There is a distinct environmental justice component to the debate. Overreliance on loans creates disparities between communities that can raise the revenue to pay them off and poorer communities like Flint that cannot. We have a shared responsibility as a community and as a country to treat wastewater and provide clean drinking water. Our economic and physical health depends on it.