WASHINGTON, D.C. — More than 160 water utility leaders took to Capitol Hill Wednesday, March 7, 2012, to show their support for draft legislation that would create a federal Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority (WIFIA). The draft legislation, currently being considered by the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, would lower the cost of large water projects for consumers at a time when infrastructure is aging and in need of replacement.
“The time for new thinking is now,” said American Water Works Association (AWWA) President Jerry Stevens, who is also general manager for West Des Moines Water Works. “The WIFIA proposal strikes just the right balance between federal assistance and local responsibility.”
“If we are going to continue to provide essential services and make progress in water quality, we need to re-imagine the way we provide local water services,” said Water Environment Federation (WEF) Executive Director Jeff Eger. “We need to encourage innovation—innovative technologies, innovative management approaches, and innovative financing.”
Uniting their voices for the second straight year at the Water Matters! Fly In, WEF and AWWA members will explain the merits of WIFIA in more than 400 meetings with legislators.The Fly In comes just days after AWWA released a new report showing that investment needs in drinking water infrastructure alone will top $1 trillion over the next 25 years. Needs on the wastewater side are thought to be similar.
Leaders from both AWWA and WEF testified last week before the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment in support of draft WIFIA legislation. The mechanism would borrow U.S. Treasury funds to provide low-interest loans, loan guarantees, or other credit support to local communities. Loan repayments — with interest — and guarantee fees would flow back to WIFIA and into the Treasury — again, with interest. Eligible water infrastructure projects would include water, wastewater, and wet weather related projects.
During meetings with Congress Wednesday and Thursday, utility leaders will emphasize that having a reliable water supply and a means of treating wastewater before returning it to the environment are necessary to economic development. Rehabilitating and replacing that infrastructure produces jobs and helps protect public health. The U.S. Department of Commerce has estimated that every dollar spent on water infrastructure generates $2.62 in the private economy. For every job added to the water workforce, about 3.68 jobs are added nationally.