Plan calls for additional $1 billion worth of water and sewer grants

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Charles Schumer announced that he is working to secure an additional billion dollars to be distributed as grants to communities to address their massive water and sewer infrastructure needs. 

Schumer said that he is also pushing to increase the amount of total federal funding available for water and sewer projects to $3.75 billion, more than double what was made available last year through the appropriations process.  The federal government is currently planning on giving all water and sewer funds out as loans, which Schumer said will burden communities in the future and limit their flexibility of financing.  The funding would help address the backlog of water infrastructure projects in communities in New York State, and prevent communities from having to levy significant tax increases to repair crumbling infrastructure.  Schumer said that this funding will not take care of all of New York's needs, but will begin to address the problem and once again bring the federal government back to the table to help address these problems - a role they have stepped away from over the last decade. 

Schumer urged the committee combining the House and Senate versions of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bills to fund the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund at a combined $3.75 billion, and require that no less than 30 percent of the funds be made available as grants instead of loans. New York's expected share of the CWSRF is $226.5 million and its share of the DWSRF is $89.5 million.  Of that, $67.95 million and $26.85 million respectively will now be given out as grants instead of loans if Schumer's proposal is accepted. 

"Water and sewer improvements are the number one concern that I hear from Mayors and Supervisors as I travel around the state," said Schumer  "These leaders want to improve their infrastructure but in many cases the cost is simply too great for a small municipal budget.   The federal government must step up to the plate to help localities break ground on many of these backlogged projects to maintain and upgrade the local water infrastructure and sewer system. Making these investments now will create jobs, ensure long-term economic competitiveness, and provide clean drinking water to residents in New York State and across the country."

Counties across New York State and the country are grappling with aging water and sewer infrastructure that threaten the environment and public health of residents. Currently there is a backlog of infrastructure projects in need of federal funding. Without a direct infusion of funds, many of these critical projects could fall by the wayside, accelerating the deterioration of water and sewer systems throughout local communities.

Studies indicate that for every $1 billion invested in infrastructure projects, anywhere from 35,000 to nearly 50,000 jobs are created. Beyond job creation, investment in water and sewer infrastructure meets public health and safety needs and helps communities attract new businesses and residents.

The adverse economic effects of the state's old sewer systems are serious. Small suburban and rural areas tend to have a smaller tax base and population, making the high cost of replacing sewers and constructing buffers a major strain on local budgets. Furthermore, counties across the state suffering from untreated sewer spillage have been slapped with proposed consent orders that, in effect, block any new economic and infrastructure development until the county pays to upgrade the wastewater system. Schumer today warned that economic development across the state could be stymied as municipalities are unable to approve building permits for commercial projects due to sewer problems.  

The environmental and public health hazards posed by the aging sewer systems are just as troubling. Groundwater degradation has resulted due to contaminants leaking into the soil and waterways from failing treatment plants, pipes and septic tanks. Pathogens and viruses are released into waterways, affecting local wildlife and fisheries and threatening drinking water.

Some of the oldest sewage systems in the country are concentrated in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions.  Older cities and towns tend to have combined sewage systems (CSS), which are designed to collect and convey wastewater and storm water through a single pipe.  These systems are designed to overflow during precipitation events (rain, snow, sleet, etc.) when capacity is exceeded.  When this occurs, the system discharges directly to surface waters, resulting in a combined sewer overflow (CSO).  Many systems have multiple outfall points in which the system enters a stream, river, lake, etc.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 850 billion gallons of untreated waste and storm water are released via combined sewer overflows (CSO) annually.

Across the state municipalities have applied for over $6 billion in water and sewer funds.  Schumer pointed out that this does not represent the total need, only what municipalities have asked for. 

Here is how the numbers break down across the state:
 

  • In the Capital Region, municipalities have requested approximately $102,600,000 for water and sewer infrastructure projects. 
  • In Central New York municipalities have requested approximately $159,300,000 for water and sewer infrastructure projects.
  • In the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region, municipalities have requested approximately $94,500,000 for water and sewer infrastructure projects.
  • In the Hudson Valley, municipalities have requested approximately $820,900,000 for water and sewer infrastructure projects.
  • In the North Country, municipalities have requested approximately $220,300,000 for water and sewer infrastructure projects.
  • In the Southern Tier, municipalities have requested approximately $118,600,000 for water and sewer infrastructure projects.
  • In Western New York, municipalities have requested approximately $173,600,000 for water and sewer infrastructure projects.
  • In New York City and Long Island, municipalities have requested approximately $4,500,000,000 for water and sewer infrastructure projects.

Through the CWSRF program, each state maintains revolving loan funds to provide independent and permanent sources of low-cost financing for a wide range of water quality infrastructure projects, such as sewer repair and reconstruction.  States have the flexibility to target resources to their particular environmental needs, including contaminated runoff from urban and agricultural areas, wetlands restoration, groundwater protection, brownfields remediation, estuary management, and wastewater treatment. 
The Safe Drinking Water Act established the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to make funds available to drinking water systems to finance infrastructure improvements. The program also emphasizes providing funds to small and disadvantaged communities and to programs that encourage pollution prevention as a tool for ensuring safe drinking water.

Under these two programs the federal government provides funding to the states who in turn select local projects to fund. If Schumer's suggestions are accepted, at least 30 percent of this funding will be made available to go out as grants, instead of loans, providing relief for local tax payers.

To provide additional funding for our nations aging sewer system, Schumer is co-sponsoring legislation in the Senate, S.936 The Water Quality Investment Act of 2009, to increase federal grant funding for municipal sewage infrastructures by providing funding for upgrades of sewage treatment plants across the state.

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