Water Infrastructure & IIJA

Funding, Timelines, Model Projects

Wednesday, January 26, 2022
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6 min
water infrastructure
clean drinking water
lead service lines
aging infrastructure
equity
affordability
SRFs
Ellory Monks

Lover of infrastructure, cities, environment. Also: women engineers, Rice University. Co-Founder of @TheAtlas4Cities & 2x mom.

Water infrastructure in the United States is failing, aging and outdated. According to the Pacific Institute, “The nation’s water infrastructure for safe drinking water and wastewater treatment is deteriorating…Modern and sustainable water services are not being delivered to millions of people in both high-density and rural populations.” The aim of the $55 billion in funding for water infrastructure included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is to address these severe water infrastructure challenges.

The incoming money from IIJA is a tremendous opportunity for state and local governments to upgrade water infrastructure, replace lead service lines, implement climate resilient projects and in delivering clean water to rural and tribal communities. It is a once in a generation opportunity for state and local governments to invest in water systems that are outdated, inefficient and inequitable.

This section highlights water programs in the Infrastructure Deal that are most relevant to state and local governments, including the relative speed at which state and local governments can expect to see the money.

This section also includes case studies from state and local governments that have successfully implemented and maintained water infrastructure projects in their communities that most closely align with the funding priorities included in IIJA.

Funding Priorities for Water included in IIJA

The funding priorities for water in IIJA are outlined in the legislation itself. We know, for example, that affordability and equity are top priorities with respect to water infrastructure; that is clear from the legislation, as well as the public statements that have been made by top-ranking officials at the White House and EPA. In her budget hearing testimony before Congress, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Water, Radhika Fox demonstrates this priority:

“Under the Biden-Harris Administration and Administrator Regan’s leadership, the agency is embedding equity into everything it does. We must ground our actions in the understanding that low-income people, tribes, rural communities and communities of color are disproportionately impacted by water related challenges—from contaminated water resources to flooding to climate stress.”

The legislation outlines the key priorities for water:

  1. Clean Drinking Water
    Reauthorized grant programs like the Clean Water State Revolving Funds (CWSRF) will fund the development of wastewater treatment systems, green stormwater infrastructure programs and control for emerging contaminants and PFAS.
  2. Lead Pipe Replacement
    The reauthorized Drinking Water SRF gives funding to replace lead service pipes, improves water distribution, upgrades water storage facilities and other water infrastructure projects that protect public health.
  3. Aging Infrastructure
    The newly established formula funds for Western Water Infrastructure address aging infrastructure, water storage, water recycling and reuse, efficiency and drought contingency plans.
  4. Equity and Affordability
    Newly established competitive grants like the Assistance to Small and Disadvantaged Communities Drinking Water Grant Program provides funding for small, disadvantaged and rural communities struggling to meet and afford water infrastructure needs.

State and local government water leaders should reference these funding priorities frequently as they are considering which projects to put forward for IIJA funding. Projects that fit into one of these funding priorities are more likely to receive funding quickly.

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Relevant Water Infrastructure Programs in IIJA & Speed of Distribution

The vast majority of funding for water infrastructure included in IIJA – 95% of the $61 billion – will be distributed through two existing competitive grant programs: the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. These are extremely well-established, well-known programs that can move money quickly. State and local governments will likely see additional funding from these programs very quickly.

Congress included other funding mechanisms for water infrastructure in IIJA, as well. How quickly state and local governments will see funding for different types of water infrastructure depends on the funding mechanism outlined in the law.

To help navigate this complexity, we’ve broken down the water programs in IIJA most relevant to state and local governments and the relative speed at which local governments can expect to receive the funding. It is important to point out that this list is not exhaustive – it only includes the programs we think are most relevant to state and local governments.

State and local governments should see money from reauthorized competitive grant programs fastest. IIJA provides additional funding to these reauthorized water grant programs:

  • Reauthorized Competitive Grant
  • Funding Amount: ​​$27.4 Billion
  • Recipients: Municipalities, intermunicipal, interstate, or state agencies
  • UPDATE: EPA Memorandum on SRF Implementation
  • Allocation within the DWSRF
  • Funding Amount: $15 billion
  • Recipients: Public water systems

Next, state and local governments are likely to see money from newly created formula funds. For water, that includes:

  • Newly Established Formula Fund
  • Funding Amount: ​​$1 Billion
  • Recipients: State, interstate, and intrastate water resource development agencies

It is also important to mention that IIJA includes significant additional funding for Western Water Infrastructure. While local governments cannot apply directly for these funds, they are still critical stakeholders. This includes:

  • $3.2 billion to address aging infrastructure.
  • $1.15 billion to improve water storage and transport infrastructure like dams and canals.
  • $1 billion for establishing rural systems.
  • $1 billion for water reuse and recycling projects such as stormwater capture, green infrastructure, and wastewater recycling.
  • $500 million for dam safety.
  • $225 million to address water desalination.

Model Water Infrastructure Projects to Prioritize for IIJA Funding

While the extensive federal agency rule-making processes are underway, state and local government water leaders are doing preparatory work to best position their communities to receive as much funding as possible for transformational water infrastructure.

An influx of federal money this size demands state and local government leaders think big about the water infrastructure projects they can pursue in their communities and the impacts they can achieve.

In this section, we have compiled a list of inspiring water infrastructure case studies from state and local governments who have successfully implemented water infrastructure projects that are consistent with the water funding priorities in IIJA.

Our hope is that they inspire state and local government leaders about the transformative impacts that can be achieved with the coming influx of federal money and serve as models for impactful water projects to put forward for IIJA funding.

City-Wide Lead Service Line Replacement Programs

Madison’s Lead Service Replacement Line program was the first of its kind in the country. It aimed to replace all lead service lines in the city, most of which were on private property. It also included a reimbursement mechanism to help customers pay for the cost of private replacements.

Local Gov Case Study

Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW)’s program to control the corrosion of lead has been successful for many years. However, the Flint crisis, along with a desire to enable the removal of lead plumbing versus continued mitigation, prompted the utility to develop a lead service line replacement program.

Local Gov Case Study

Lead Pipe Replacement in Schools

Vermont’s Department of Health, Agency of Natural Resources, and the Agency of Education began a pilot program to test for lead in 16 schools. The program built the state’s capacity for lead testing and helped determine how commonplace lead was in their schools’ water supplies.

Local Gov Case Study

Bringing Clean Water to Tribal Nations

The Navajo Water Project has helped over 250+ families gain access to hot and cold running water in their homes. Capitalizing on community collaboration, home water system installment employs community members while providing 1200 gallons of drinking water and solar power to its users.

Local Gov Case Study

Water Efficiency in Low-Income Communities

Aurora partnered with a local non-profit to help low-income communities become more water efficient. The city provided in-home assessments of inefficient fixtures and the nonprofit installed new fixtures. As a result, the Low Income Water Efficiency Program educated residents on water conservation and saved them money on their water bills.

Local Gov Case Study

We hope these case studies inspire you and demonstrate the scale and type of community impacts that are possible with the water investments included in IIJA. Want to see more? Browse water case studies in The Atlas case study database.

Next up: Broadband Infrastructure & IIJA: Funding, Timelines, Model Projects.


Author’s Note: Rachel Angulo (Content Marketing Manager at The Atlas) provided writing and research support to this section. Mark Funkhouser (Former Mayor of Kansas City, MO), Shalini Vajjhala (Executive Director of the San Diego Regional Policy & Innovation Center) and Erik Caldwell (Director of Data Strategy at The Atlas and former Deputy Chief Operating Officer at the City of San Diego) generously reviewed this section.

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