Despite what you might think based on the national news coverage, the Capitol building is still functioning. Congress is occasionally in session. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (probably the most important for construction) in late October met to “mark-up*” H.R. 1497.

While that doesn’t sound all that exciting, what if we told you H.R. 1497 is a bill that could add $16.68 billion over the next five years to address America’s crumbling wastewater infrastructure and other water quality challenges.

The Engineering Contractors’ Association is a supporter of this bipartisan legislation through our membership in the Clean Water Construction Coalition (CWCC), which includes members from 24 states representing more than half the nation’s population.

The bill provides additional much-needed funds to improve the everyday water needs of southern California and will be a big help for our members. H.R. 1497, (aka) the “Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2019,” increases the federal commitment to addressing local water quality challenges by providing an infusion of funding assistance for the construction, repair, and replacement of the nation’s network of wastewater, stormwater conveyance and treatment facilities. The legislation significantly increases the amount of federal assistance made available to states and communities through the successful Clean Water State Revolving Fund program (SRF)—the primary source of federal aid for wastewater infrastructure construction.

Congress enacted the landmark Clean Water Act in 1972, which fundamentally changed the way we address water pollution in this country, set strong standards and provided substantial financial assistance to local communities to meet water quality challenges.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) most recent Infrastructure Report Card, America’s wastewater treatment infrastructure receives a grade of D+, which is only the slightest improvement from its previous grade of D in the 2013 ASCE report.

Currently, municipalities face a backlog of more than $40 billion in clean water infrastructure projects, and, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), these communities need close to $300 billion of investment over the next 20 years to bring their systems to a state of good repair. Given the current lack of federal investment to address these needs, communities are forced to cover more than 95 percent of the cost of clean water projects.

The legislation will create thousands of new, domestic jobs in the construction and wastewater sectors through increased investment in wastewater infrastructure. It will reduce the cost of constructing and maintaining that infrastructure, promote energy efficiency and water efficiency, reduce the potential long-term operating costs of our aging treatment works.

Where Does the Money Go?

Big money, $14 billion, goes to federal grants spread over five years to provide capital to Clean Water SRFs. These funds offer low-interest loans and additional loan subsidizations (e.g., principal forgiveness and negative interest loans) to communities for wastewater infrastructure.

The balance of the new funding will go to these five-year grant programs:

  • Authorizes $1.125 billion for municipalities to capture, treat, or reuse combined and sanitary sewer overflows or stormwater.
  • Authorizes $1.295 billion for state agencies like California’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to implement water pollution control programs in their jurisdictions.
  • Provides $110 million for innovative ways to address wet weather discharges, to promote stormwater best management practices, to undertake integrated water resource management, and to increase the resiliency of utilities to natural or other disasters.
  • Authorizes $150 million for alternative water source projects under section 220 of the Clean Water Act, including projects that reuse wastewater or stormwater to augment the existing sources of water.
  • Codifies the Clean Water SRF “green-reserve” – a 15 per cent set-aside for green infrastructure projects and projects that provide energy or water efficiency improvements or other environmentally innovative activities.
  • Requires utilities to evaluate, and where feasible, implement efforts to increase the efficiency of energy use for wastewater utilities, including efforts to capture and reuse energy produced in the wastewater treatment process (such as methane recapture).
  • Requires States to set-aside a minimum of 10 percent of annual Clean Water SRF funds to provide grants to communities with affordability concerns.
  • Establishes minimum funding set-asides to address the water infrastructure needs of small and rural communities.
  • Requires states to pay a more significant federal share of construction costs to disadvantaged communities participating in EPA’s sewer overflow and stormwater grant program.
    Permanently codifies set-aside of Clean Water SRF funds for tribal communities and the U.S. territories.
  • Authorizes states to use a portion of their Clean Water SRF funds to promote workforce development and utility worker training and education programs.
  • Requires states, as part of their biennial assessment of Clean Water infrastructure needs, to include estimates to address “resiliency and climate change.”

*Mark-up is the process by which a congressional committee debates, amends, and rewrites proposed legislation before sending it to the floor of the House for a vote, which, if approved, is sent to Senate for concurrence, then off to the President for approval or veto