Mr. Millea Goes to Washington

WEF member testifies on the need for and benefits of funding water projects

 

Matt Millea, on the right at the table, gives a testimony urging members of the U.S. House of Representatives to fund programs for the operation of wastewater and water treatment services. Photo courtesy Steve Dye, McAllister & Quinn (Washington, D.C.).

Matt Millea, on the right at the table, gives a testimony urging members of the U.S. House of Representatives to fund programs for the operation of wastewater and water treatment services. Photo courtesy Steve Dye, McAllister & Quinn (Washington, D.C.).

On April 16, Matt Millea, vice chair of the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Government Affairs Committee, appeared before members of the U.S. House of Representatives, urging them to fund programs critical to successful operation of wastewater and water treatment services.

Millea, deputy county executive for physical services in Onondaga County, N.Y., represented WEF during his testimony. He presented the need for infrastructure funding, the importance of both the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving fund (SRF) programs, the potential role for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority (WIFIA), and the importance of the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program.

Presenting the facts for funding water infrastructure

Millea presented facts supporting the need for and benefit of funding water infrastructure. With the health of 55% of streams and rivers in poor condition for aquatic life and the grade of “D” for water and wastewater infrastructure in the U.S., there is a great need for funding, Millea said during the testimony. He described the Water for Jobs coalition and how it was formed to compile data about water infrastructure needs and educate policy leaders and the public about benefits of investment.

Millea also described the numbers behind infrastructure funding. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said that $632.9 billion in total water infrastructure capital investment is needed during the next 20 years. There will be a funding gap of at least $224 billion nationwide unless investment increases, Millea said. And this does not include the costs of operating and maintaining systems, he added.

“Unless new investments are made by 2020, unreliable and insufficient water infrastructure will cost the average American household $900 a year in higher water rates and lower wages; American businesses can expect an additional $147 billion in increased costs, and the economy will lose 700,000 jobs,” Millea said. But research shows that there’s a high return on investment for water infrastructure projects and that Americans support investing in upgrades to water infrastructure, he said.

Introducing the funding options

When considering ways to fund infrastructure, the SRFs have been successful at “improving water quality and providing communities with funding for critical local infrastructure projects at very low cost,” Millea said. “We should not undermine the success of the SRF programs.” He emphasized that new mechanisms to fund projects should not be created if it will be at the expense of the SRF programs.

Millea conveyed WEF’s request to fund both SRF programs at fiscal year 2012 levels, he said, emphasizing that it is necessary to fund projects now, rather than wait until emergency repairs are needed at higher costs.

Millea also explained how WIFIA, a lending authority to support larger regional water and wastewater projects at small long-term costs to the government, supplements SRFs. Most communities use SRFs to fund a greater number of smaller and medium projects, rather than a few larger projects, he said during the testimony.

“WIFIA must be designed to complement — not replace — the SRFs,” Millea said. He explained that a pilot version of WIFIA was passed by the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in S. 601, the Water Resources Development Act of 2013. In addition, Tim Bishop (D–N.Y.) has included authority to create a WIFIA program in the draft of a comprehensive water infrastructure bill he is planning to reintroduce. WEF endorses both the provision in the act and this bill, and encourages the U.S. Congress to do the same, Millea said during the testimony.

Expressing a need to support the NAWQA program

Water sector professionals, such as WEF members, need reliable data to meet the Clean Water Act requirements. The NAWQA program has provided an important source of scientific information for this task, Millea testified.

Established 22 years ago by Congress, the NAWQA program provides “nationally consistent data and information on water quality conditions and ecosystem health nationwide,” Millea said. “NAWQA’s findings have and continue to be used by national, regional, state, and local governments and the private sector to develop more-effective science-based policies and actions to protect and restore water quality.”

But the program’s budget has been reduced, threatening both the ability to collect thorough data and water professionals’ abilities to do their jobs, Millea said. WEF requests that the program be funded at the fiscal year 2010 level of $66.5 million, he said. “The NAWQA program provides such critical data about the health of the nation’s aquatic systems that it is vitally important that the program continues to receive the highest level of funding possible,” he said.

— Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights

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