House Democrats’ infrastructure package, the Moving Forward Act, contains $40 billion for wastewater infrastructure and $25 billion for drinking water infrastructure. ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card gave our nation’s wastewater a grade of “D+,” and our nation’s drinking water a grade of “D,” and by 2025, the disparity between needed and anticipated funding for drinking water and wastewater systems will be $105 billion. The bill also contains important resilience measures to ensure our nation’s infrastructure is built to withstand future manmade disasters and extreme weather events, as well as a provision that helps to fully unlock the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF).
The Moving Forward Act provides $40 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) program and $25 billion for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) program for fiscal years 2021 through 2025. Since their original authorizations in 1987 and 1996, the CWSRF and the DWSRF programs have played a vital role in providing states and localities with a critical source of funding for water infrastructure projects through low-interest loans. The bill’s authorizations for the two programs are significantly higher than the enacted level of funding the programs have received in the past five years; from FY16 – FY20, the CWSRF received about $7.84 billion, while the DWSRF received slightly more than $5 billion. ASCE has consistently urged Congress to triple the amount of funding to these programs.
The bill also provides funding for water utilities to address emerging contaminants such per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are chemicals found in consumer products such as food packages, cookware, textiles, plastics, and other household products that when accumulated over time can have negative impacts on human health. Up to $1 billion in grants are made available to wastewater utilities to address PFAS, and a new grant program under the Safe Drinking Water Act is established to help drinking water utilities address PFAS. The bill also includes a pilot grant program of $600 million for alternative water source projects, as well as an increase in authorization for sewer overflow and stormwater reuse grants. Furthermore, the bill unlocks more tax-exempt bond financing for water infrastructure projects by exempting bonds funding these projects from state allocation caps for Private Activity Bonds (PABs).
Resilience takes center stage with inclusion of the Resilience Revolving Loan Fund Act (H.R. 3779/ S. 3418), which ASCE has championed since its introduction in 2019. This provision amends the Stafford Act to create a federal program— authorized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — to provide states with revolving loan funds intended to finance projects that minimize the risk of earthquake, flood, storm surge, chemical spill, and other events FEMA deems catastrophic. These would be low-interest funds, which would allow for cities and states to repay the loan with savings from mitigation projects. It also gives states and localities the flexibility to respond to oncoming disasters without paying high-interest rates so they can invest in their communities – cutting the red tape of having to wait on the federal government. The bill also creates a new grant program for wastewater utilities to assess and address future risks posed by manmade or natural disasters and then carry out watershed, wet weather, and resiliency projects to mitigate those risks.
The nation’s ports also get a little love in this bill with inclusion of a provision that allows for the $10 billion balance of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) be retroactively spent for dredging at our nation’s ports and inland harbors. Earlier this year, the CARES Act included a provision to ensure all future Harbor Maintenance Trust revenues are spent on its intended purpose of dredging, but it did not address the current HMTF balance. The bill also creates a new $500 million a year smart ports grant program to assist ports with replacing equipment and technology that promotes zero carbon emissions. Ensuring that all HMTF revenues – both current and future balance – are spent on dredging at our harbors, and encouraging resilient facilities and technologies, will help raise the nation’s “C+” ports grade.
ASCE is pleased that the Moving Forward Act contains significant investments to our nation’s wastewater, drinking water, and ports infrastructure systems, as well as a focus on building resiliently so that our infrastructure systems will last for 50 to 100 years or more. These investments will help close the funding gap for our nation’s infrastructure, will spur the economy, and will improve the quality of life for all Americans.