Senate Releases Water Infrastructure Legislation with Key Clean Water Priorities

(April 24, 2020) – The Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee released its bipartisan draft version of the 2020 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) this past week, which includes several top clean water priorities that NACWA has been advocating for over the past year.

The draft legislation continues to build on the comprehensive approach of the 2016 and 2018 WRDA bills by encompassing a wide range of water infrastructure and policy needs. It is important to note that the WRDA legislation, which is scheduled to be passed every two years, is separate from the legislative efforts Congress and the water sector are working on as part of COVID-19 stimulus assistance. 

The WRDA draft is comprised of two separate bills – one focused on drinking water only and another focused on clean water and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issues titled America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 (AWIA 2020) – that will be advanced on parallel tracks through the committee and eventually packaged together in one final WRDA bill to be considered by the committee and full Senate.

The committee is now in the process of publicly receiving stakeholder comments and will then begin working to advance the drafts through the committee process. NACWA is still analyzing the draft and will be submitting its detailed stakeholder comments in the coming days.

Key clean water provisions championed and supported by NACWA in the draft AWIA 2020 include:

  • Reauthorization of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) program at increased authorized levels over the current $1.6 billion appropriated amount. The draft provides for incremental increases of $2 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2021, $2.5 billion for FY 2022, and $3 billion for FY 2023, for a total of $7.5 billion over three years, which would authorize the largest increase ever (outside of the 2009 stimulus bill) for the CWSRF.

The drinking water draft does not include a DWSRF reauthorization, however it does include increased grant funding of $300 million through FY 2024 to assist in the remediation of contamination from emerging contaminants, with a focus on PFAS;

  • Reauthorization of the sewer overflow and stormwater reuse municipal grants program at increased levels of $250 million for FY 2021 and 2022, up from $225 million over the current authorized level;
  • Reauthorization of the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) through 2024 at the current core annual funding level of $50 million;
  • Reauthorization and increased funding for the Water Infrastructure and Workforce Investment competitive grant program to $2 million annually though FY 2024, up $1 million over the current authorized and appropriated level;
  • Establishing a Clean Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability program at $5 million annually though FY 2024 for grants to clean water utilities of all sizes to assist in the planning, design, construction, implementation, operation, or maintenance of a program or project to increase the resiliency or adaptability of water systems to natural hazards (non-federal cost-share of 25 percent).

This provision/program is modeled after a similar drinking water program established in WRDA 2018 and has been championed by NACWA on the clean water side;

  • Establishing a new wastewater infrastructure discretionary grant program within EPA to provide funding to clean water utilities that need assistance coming into compliance with federal regulations and laws or that need additional assistance in completing work because of a lack of full financing. Funding is authorized at $50 million annually for FY2021 to FY2024;

  • Establishing a new EPA pilot program to provide competitive grants to states to provide platforms for intrastate information sharing among communities regarding water quality, water infrastructure needs, and water technology.

While narrower and more targeted in scope, this provision is based on the ARPA-H2O  concept and legislation championed by NACWA and introduced in the House earlier this year. Grants for this program are authorized at $15 million annually through FY2024.

This provision also authorizes funds to assist states in the creation of multi-state consortia to exchange water data, share information regarding water practices, protocols, technologies and procedures, and to establish regional intended use plans;

  • Reauthorization of the Alternative Water Source Grants Pilot Program at $25 million per year from FY 2022 to FY 2024;
  • Establishing a stormwater infrastructure technology grant program to assist research institutions and institutions of higher education with research on new and emerging stormwater control technology. Grants are authorized at $10 million annually for FY 2022 and FY 2023;
  • Establishing an EPA pilot program to assist fifteen utilities with projects that create or improve waste-to-energy systems. This may be awarded to biosolids collections systems, anaerobic digesters, methane capture or transfer, and other emerging technologies that transform waste to energy;

  • Establishing an EPA program to provide grants to utilities or nonprofit organizations to cover the costs incurred from connecting a household to a municipal or private wastewater system. The program authorizes $20 million annually for FY 2021 and FY 2022; and

  • Establishing a small and medium clean water utility circuit rider program to provide additional on-site technical assistance to owners and operators. Program grants are authorized at $10 million annually for FY 2021 to FY 2024

NACWA greatly appreciates the bipartisan collaboration with the Senate EPW Committee on the inclusion of several important clean water infrastructure priorities in this draft bill. 

In the House, the WRDA 2020 process is slightly different in part due to the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s Clean Water Act jurisdiction and the Energy & Commerce Committee’s Safe Drinking Water Act jurisdiction.

However, the T&I Committee’s bipartisan Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2019, H.R. 1497, that passed the committee last year, will serve as the House’s clean water legislative basis during WRDA conference negotiations with the Senate this summer and fall. In the meantime, the T&I Committee is working with House leadership to bring H.R. 1497 before the full House for a vote.

NACWA will continue to provide additional information on the WRDA process as it unfolds. To discuss further, please contact NACWA’s legislative staff, Jason Isakovic or Kristina Surfus.