Legislators Stress Need for Adequate Wastewater Infrastructure Funding

Members of the House Transportation Committee's Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee outlined their concerns with the administration's fiscal 2006 budget proposal for EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The subcommittee took particular interest in the funding levels for the State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF), the program designed to improve the nation's wastewater infrastructure.

"The SRF program is one of the most cost-effective programs in government," said Subcommittee Chairman John J. Duncan Jr. (R-TN), at a Feb. 16 hearing. "For every dollar the federal government invests, more than two dollars is made available for environmental improvements.

"However, studies by both EPA and the Congressional Budget Offices have confirmed that the gap between current levels of spending and the necessary level of investment in wastewater infrastructure is staggering and we need to double our efforts to close that gap.

"The consequences of failing to invest are severe. Without upgrades to wastewater treatment plants, not only will we fail to make progress in water quality, but as our population increases, we will lose the gains we have made over the past 30 years.

"No one wants to go back to the days when rivers caught on fire," Duncan said.

EPA's Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund program (www.epa.gov/owm/cwfinance/index.htm) is a highly successful program administered by states to provide capital to make wastewater infrastructure improvements around the country and to address other water quality needs, according to the subcommittee members. To date, Congress has provided nearly $22 billion in grants to help capitalize 51 Clean Water SRFs, with more than $52 billion available for loans for wastewater infrastructure.

For fiscal 2006, the president's budget is requesting $730 million to further capitalize these funds. This is $120 million less than the fiscal 2005 request and $361 million less than the fiscal 2005 enacted level of $1.091 billion.

Capital needs for wastewater are expected to be as much as $400 billion over the next 20 years. The current rate of capital investment of approximately $10 billion a year will leave an approximate $200 billion gap. To close the gap between current spending and needs, capital investment over the next 20 years will have to double, according to the subcommittee.

For the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the president's budget requests $414.73 million for the National Ocean Service for fiscal 2006, $17.594 million to fund natural resource trustee and other activities under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Also known as Superfund, and the Oil Pollution Act, $8.9 million to fund activities under the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act, and $7.9 million for the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research for activities under the National Invasive Species Act of 1996.

This news item originally appeared in the March/April 2005 issue Water and Wastewater Products, Vol. 5, No. 2.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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