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Policy Blog: America’s Water Infrastructure Act Passes

Congress recently overwhelmingly passed the America’s Water Infrastructure Act. Here is the latest national water policy perspective from IH2O guest blogger Dan Kidera of the OB-C Group in Washington DC.

Congress just completed the America’s Water Infrastructure Act, a bipartisan and broadly supported comprehensive piece of legislation to address America’s water infrastructure needs. The bill unanimously passed the House in September and overwhelming passed the Senate (99–1)this week. It will now be sent to the President where it will be signed into law shortly.

The legislation has four main parts: reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA); the Drinking Water System Improvement Act to modernize the country’s aging drinking water system; a title promoting and streamlining hydropower; and a title on stormwater and wastewater infrastructure improvements.

The section on WRDA relates to major water infrastructure projects carried out by the Army Corp of Engineers. This includes projects at ports, inland waterways, dams, flood protection, and ecosystem restoration. The section on hydropower aims to remove barriers and regulatory obstacles to get hydropower projects to market faster. The section on storm and wastewater infrastructure establishes a task force to develop recommendations to improve the availability of public and private sources of funding for stormwater infrastructure. It also directs the EPA Administrator to disseminate information on cost-effective and alternative wastewater recycling and treatment technologies.

Not to discount WRDA, hydropower, and storm and wastewater infrastructure, but by far the most exciting part of the bill for the future of water is the title on modernizing our drinking water system. The title on drinking water systems reauthorizes the Safe Drinking Water Act for the first time in more than 20 years and provides significant funding increases to help state and local governments upgrade their outdated drinking water infrastructure. This will include grants to schools to replace water fountains contaminated with lead. The bill also provides $4.4 billion in funding for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF), nearly doubling the amount previously authorized. There is also $100 million over two years in financing through the EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program.

Significantly, the bill also includes provisions on innovation and new technology development related to water. Section 2007 of the bill relates to a new innovative water technology grant program. Under the program, $10 million in grant funding is made available in fiscal year 2019 and 2020 to develop, test, and deploy innovative water technologies or provide technical assistance to deploy these technologies. The grant program prioritizes new technologies to reduce ratepayer or future capital costs, improve human health or the environment, and/or improve drinking water supply without negative impacts to the environment.

The EPA will also be tasked with reviewing new technologies. Section 2017 authorizes an additional $10 million for the EPA to provide an independent review of new technologies of interest to the drinking water utility sector. This can include new technologies used for corrosion protection, metering, leak detection, or protection against water loss. It also includes physical or electronic systems that monitor, or assist in monitoring, containments in drinking water in real time.

Beyond just a review of new technologies, the title on drinking water system improvements also includes assistance to states and utilities with compliance and asset management, updates to antiterrorism and resilience measures at public water systems, and improves transparency for consumers about the quality of their drinking water.

The legislation is a significant step forward in providing the resources needed to address our aging and crumbling water infrastructure. It should lead to major investments in water infrastructure around the country and provide new opportunities to emerging technology and innovation that can more efficiently and cost-effectively address the many water challenges we face.