The federal government’s latest water infrastructure financing program is off to a strong start. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has
received 43 proposals from organizations interested in participating in the Water Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act
Congress previously authorized EPA to distribute $17 million through WIFIA in fiscal year 2017. Those funds were
expected to be leveraged into $1 billion in credit assistance
that would be used to finance more than $2 billion in water
Now, as part of the omnibus 2017 appropriations bill, Congress also allocated another $8 million (which could facilitate
$1 billion in investments) to WIFIA’s fiscal 2017 budget.
In the budget bill, in a compromise with legislators that
averted the trauma of a government shutdown, the Trump
Administration agreed to maintain most 2017 federal
spending at fiscal 2016 levels until the 2018 fiscal year begins October 1.
Despite the administration’s previous rhetoric about slashing EPA’s budget 31 percent the agency fared very well in the
2017 budget plan. It was allocated $8.058 billion, a paltry
$81 million less than in fiscal 2016. Funding for the drinking
water and clean water state revolving funds (SRFs) were preserved at current levels.
EPA’s reprieve will not be long lived. The Trump team is expected to renew its efforts to truncate EPA when House and
Senate appropriators begin drafting their fiscal 2018 spending
programs this summer.
The National Association of Clean Water Agencies was op-
timistic nevertheless. “Considering the significant fiscal 2018
cuts which had been proposed for EPA by the Trump Admin-
istration and supported by some in Congress, the near-level
support for EPA through the second half of fiscal 2017 is a
positive sign for clean water funding as legislators and water
stakeholders move toward fiscal 2018 negotiations. We need
to build on this agreement as a model for the fiscal 2018 bud-
get to ensure that critical municipal clean water priorities are
funded for next year as well,” it said.
At the behest of major water associations, Congress had
enacted WIFIA in 2014 to provide low-cost financing options
for large water infrastructure construction. WIFIA projects in
communities of more than 25,000 people must cost at least
$20 million. The federal program would help with up to 49
percent of the total cost. The balance could come through
tax-exempt municipal bonds, private financing or other
The WIFIA program is amenable to a wide array of con-
struction, ranging from conventional drinking water and
wastewater projects to more unusual ventures such as sea-
water desalination, drought mitigation and water recycling.
WIFIA operates separately from the SRFs but in coordination
The 43 projects proposed to EPA were geographically diverse, although 18 of them were California-based. Twenty-five were for wastewater projects but the rest were varied.
About a third would be co-financed through other funding
tools such as the drinking water and clean water SRFs.
EPA’s next step will be to invite states to exercise their right
of first refusal for funding through the SRFs. Then EPA will
evaluate the proposals and invite some of them to submit
full applications for WIFIA assistance. It expects to announce
those projects in July.
The American Water Works Association (AWWA) noted that the nation will need to invest more than $2 trillion
to repair and expand water and wastewater infrastructure
in the foreseeable future. “Funding WIFIA is a tremendous
step forward as we confront the nation’s water infrastructure
challenge,” said Tracy Mehan, AWWA executive director of
government affairs. WW
About the Author: Patrick Crow covered the U.S. Congress and federal agencies for
21 years as a reporter for industry magazines. He has reported on water issues for
the past 15 years. Crow is now an Austin, Texas-based freelance writer.
Congress Boosts Its Bet on
WIFIA Infrastructure Program
BY PATRICK CROW
“FUNDING WIFIA IS A TREMENDOUS STEP FORWARD
as we confront the nation’s water infrastructure challenge.”
— Tracy Mehan, Executive Director of Government Affairs, AWWA