That’s right—another new acronym in the federal funding crazy quilt—BIL, which stands for Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, is the purse for funding $55.426 billion in new water projects around the country, spread over the next five years.
The official legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Biden in mid-November was the ”Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” but since the initials of the bill do not convert into a snappy acronym (how do you pronounce IIJA?) the agencies tasked with distributing the money produced BIL which is easy to enunciate. Other choices suggested during the struggle to pass the legislation, according to Wikipedia were INVEST, BIF, BID, but BILmust sound friendlier to the administration political types.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency just announced the first allocations of BIL funding ($937 million) through its State Revolving Fund (SRF) program for the Pacific Southwest Region.
California gets $609,441,000 million in SRF funding from BIL according to the regional EPAoffice in San Francisco. Other Pacific Southwest recipients include Arizona ($109,458,000); Nevada ($71,601,000), Hawaii ($68,398,000) and U.S. Territories American Samoa ($30,885,000), Guam ($26,522,000), and Northern Marianas ($20,794,000).
SRF Spells Money, at low interest rates
Now a word about SRF programs. Every state (and many tribal areas) has SRF loan programs that provide low-interest loans to communities for projects that improve wastewater and drinking water infrastructure. The programs’ mission is to provide communities that apply for the loans with the lowest interest rates possible on the financing of such projects. In California, these lending programs are administered by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), and it has been a remarkably successful approach to funding with very few defaults on the loans.
This new federal funding comes with some different rules. First is a requirement that 49 percent of the money must be made available to “eligible recipients” in the form of principal forgiveness/grants, with the rest in the form of traditional SRF loans. In other words, free money for “underserved” (read poor) communities.
While generous to the towns with a bad tax base, it will force a bigger than usual scramble among cities that can afford to repay the loans. It will also inevitably throw the SRFs into financial straits if local governments run into trying times, which has happened repeatedly over the past few decades. There is already cutthroat competition for the funding. As of February 2021, the SWRCB received applications requesting over $10 billion in funding from its Clean Water and Drinking Water SRFs.
In addition to the SRF program funding, BIL has other buckets of money to disperse, including according to the National League of Cities:
$15 billion over five years for lead pipe replacement projects and associated activities directly connected to the identification, planning, design, and replacement of lead service lines. It’s important to note that this money will flow through states via the Drinking Water SRF.
$10 billion in grants over five years to address emerging contaminants and PFAS drinking water contamination. The bill allocates $1 billion through the Clean Water SRF with 100% in the form of principal forgiveness/grants; $4 billion through the Drinking Water SRF with 100% in the form of principal forgiveness/grants; and $5 billion through the states, but not through the SRF programs, for underserved communities.
$75 million for the Army Corps WIFIA program for safety projects to maintain, upgrade and repair dams identified in the National Inventory of Dams. The 2014 water resources bill created a loan program called Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) at both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
$465 million for the Army Corps Continuing Authorities Program (CAP) to plan, design and implement smaller, less complex or less costly water resources projects in communities. Under the CAP program, the Army Corps works with local sponsors on projects without the need to obtain specific Congressional approval, thus cutting opportunities for political pork barreling. Additionally, for qualifying poor communities, projects could be 100% federal in cost.
$8.3 billion for Western water infrastructure for projects through the Bureau of Reclamation to address aging infrastructure, water storage, water recycling and reuse, efficiency, and drought contingency plans.
For more information, including state-by-state allocation of 2022 funding, and a breakdown of EPA funding by SRF program, and additional funding available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, please visit: //www.epa.gov/infrastructure.