Case Overview, Funding of Water Infrastructure

This document provides background information and summarizes the debate over the funding of water infrastructure. The links to the left will lead you to public documents that we have found.

          Since the 1970s Congress has enacted and then amended many vital laws designed to protect and enhance the environment. Among the many programs set up during this era was the Clean Water Act and later the Safe Water Drinking Act. This is not the sexiest government program to protect the environment-much of this effort goes for the replacement of pipes and other parts of a city's water infrastructure. But it is a vitally important program as the purity of any nation's drinking water is a critical component of public health. Beyond drinking water are problems involving wastewater and storm drainage.
           Initially the federal aid to municipalities, regional authorities, and water companies, came in the form of grants for specific projects. In 1986 the funding mechanism was changed to a state revolving loan fund. A municipal water authority can apply to its state's fund for a loan to carry out a capital project (such as installing new filtering machinery or laying new pipes) and then pay the loan back at a below market interest rate. Over time the capitalization of these state funds has become increasingly inadequate. Although there's little agreement on how under-funded the program is, no one doubts that more loan money needs to be made available. Industry trade groups began a concerted push at the end of the Clinton years and in the 107th Congress (2001-2002) congressional committees in both houses began to work on legislation designed to improve the nation's water infrastructure.
           The drive for enactment was severely damaged by a growing disagreement between all the organizations that were working on the legislation. Initially there was unity within the WIN (Water Infrastructure Network) coalition as it developed its lobbying campaign. After endorsing the basic thrust of WIN's legislative goals, environmental groups began to move in another direction. As a spokesperson for one of the organizations representing the water authorities put it, the environmentalists "were part of our coalition, they had a group representing us. Frankly, they essentially repudiated the coalition. They thought all kinds of additional EPA regulatory conditions on grants were necessary." Another industry lobbyist explained, "The environmentalists are concerned that projects will produce spread and development." A second split emerged between private, for-profit water companies and the much more numerous nonprofit or governmental water entities.
           The collapse of unity among the concerned parties was compounded by the security concerns that became paramount after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In one way 9/11 gave fresh urgency to work upgrading the water infrastructure since there is some concern about terrorism through contamination of a municipality's water supply. Yet the budgetary constraints imposed by the growing needs of homeland security and military preparedness worked against enactment of water legislation. In the end the legislation couldn't progress beyond committee.