Denver — President Obama on Dec. 10 signed legislation that will allow the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program to begin making loans to tackle the nation’s trillion-dollar water infrastructure challenge, a moment that drew praise from the American Water Works Association, which helped craft WIFIA.

“AWWA is thankful to all those members of Congress and water sector partners who championed WIFIA over the past several years,” said Tracy Mehan, AWWA executive director of government affairs. “With more than $2 trillion needed to repair and expand water and wastewater infrastructure in the coming years, water utilities needed a smart new finance tool to help communities pay for large, critical water projects. Funding WIFIA is a tremendous step forward as we confront the nation’s water infrastructure challenge.”

The legislation, H.R. 2028, was a continuing resolution to keep the federal government in operation until April 28. It also included $100 million in state revolving loan (SRF) funds to assist communities in which a water emergency had been declared, such as in Flint, Mich.

The money for WIFIA is available now since funding was already authorized in the original legislation creating the program in 2014. In previous fiscal years, Congress had only appropriated money for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set up the program.

The SRF money and other funds to help with Flint’s lead situation must be authorized before they can be released. Congress passed authorizing legislation — within the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) of 2016 — late last week. That legislation is awaiting the President Obama’s signature, but he has already signed the continuing resolution authorizing the WIFIA funding.

Of the $20 million appropriated for WIFIA, $3 million is to be used for administrative purposes, leaving $17 million to seed loans. WIFIA leverages federal dollars so that for every dollar Congress appropriates, $50 to $60 is expected to be loaned out. That means up to $1.02 billion could be available for loans.

The legislation creating WIFIA in 2014 actually authorizes $35 million in appropriations for 2017, and AWWA will continue to ask Congress to fully fund WIFIA to maximize its potential.

“Because WIFIA is a loan program, it strikes just the right balance between federal assistance and local responsibility,” said AWWA CEO David LaFrance.