SRF Funding Dodges Funding Bullet – This Year

March 2014, Vol. 69 No. 3

A flurry of new water infrastructure funding bills has made an appearance of Capitol Hill.

They arrive as cities and counties breathe a slight sigh of relief now that Congress has set what has to be considered a reasonable – under the circumstances – funding level for the state revolving funds in fiscal 2014. Actually, fiscal 2014 started last Oct. 1. But Democratic and Republican sparring over controversial issues prevented the House and Senate from adopting a final fiscal 2014 budget until Jan. 13, 2014.

That agreement included $1,448,887,000 for clean water state revolving funds and $906,896,000 for drinking water state revolving funds. Those are approximately the same amounts Congress appropriated for fiscal 2013. President Obama's proposed budget for fiscal 2014, submitted in February 2013, included a total for both funds of about $1.9 billion.

Water infrastructure advocates are again holding their breath as the President gets ready to submit his proposed budget for fiscal 2015, which starts Oct. 1. 2014. It is entirely likely Obama will again attempt to convince Congress to reduce SRF funding.

Given the uncertainty of federal funding, not to mention its inadequacy when compared to needs, the introduction of a couple of bills give water advocates some reason for hope. The bills would establish supplemental alternative funding flows to the SRFs. Of course legislation creating "SRF supplements" has been introduced before, somewhat frequently actually, but has never passed Congress.

One of the new infrastructure funding bills targets water systems solely. It is called the Clean Water Affordability Act (H.R. 3862). A bill with the same name was introduced in prior Congresses, but the current version has been narrowed in its scope. Sponsored by Reps. Bob Latta (R-OH) and Tim Walz (D-MN), the bill gives cities and counties some flexibility in terms of the funding of sewer projects. The terms of any federal loan under the CWSRF would be eased based on a comprehensive and integrated planning approach first established by the EPA and then followed by a city applying for funds. The idea, apparently, is to give more breathing room to permit applicants to account for the ability of their ratepayers to fund a sewer project. But the Latta/Walz bill does not include any new sources of federal funding. That may actually enhance its chances of passage.

“Across the country, communities are struggling to pay for the critical wastewater infrastructure necessary to protect public health and the environment,” said Ken Kirk, NACWA executive director.