Water Infrastructure Initiatives Afoot

March 2013, Vol. 68 No. 3

Separate regulatory and legislative developments could affect local government ability to afford water infrastructure projects. The Environmental Protection Agency is considering revisions to the agency's 1997 financial capability guidelines which dictate how hard the agency can press cities and counties to undertake expensive Clean Water Act projects such as sewer repairs.

Meanwhile, Congress passed a Hurricane Sandy relief bill which contains an additional $600 million for state revolving fund (SRF) projects in New York and New Jersey, and widens the kinds of projects eligible beyond those traditionally funded by the EPA, a precedent that could be included in upcoming legislation so that it applied to all states.

The EPA published a memorandum in January which said it was working with interested parties to "clarify" its June 2012 Integrated Municipal Stormwater and Wastewater Planning Approach Framework. That Framework essentially softened slightly some of the tough requirements in the 1997 guidelines, which gave the EPA the ability to set draconian requirements for sewer projects. The memorandum indicates that the EPA wants to be more sensitive to communities with low-income populations by allowing them to set lower water use rates. Elsewhere, the memorandum says that there is a "misperception" that the EPA uses an ironclad guideline of 2 percent of median family income to determine how much a locality is required to spend on a clean water remediation project.

“EPA’s commitment to an ongoing dialogue is an important step forward,” said Ken Kirk, executive director for the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA). "It is critical, however, that EPA uses this opportunity to gather additional input and address many of the long-standing concerns that NACWA has been raising regarding affordability. The Framework’s reliance on financial capability considerations, however, underscored the need to update and refine the outdated approaches outlined in EPA’s 1997 guidance for financial capability. Many limitations of EPA’s current financial capability analysis need to be addressed."