Federal Appropriations Bill & COVID Relief Package Benefits the Water Sector

The Federal year-end Omnibus Appropriations Bill was grouped with the high profile COVID relief legislative package. Several appropriations benefit the water sector, including:

The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020 was also included with the appropriations bill. WRDA authorizes $9.9 billion in Federal funding for 46 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water projects.

In addition, the COVID relief package includes $638 million for low-income water utility bill assistance.  An alliance of major water organizations including the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, Water Environment Federation, American Water Works Association (AWWA), National Rural Water Association, and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies released a joint statement praising the bill’s passage: “The water community and its customers are grateful to Congress for including $638 million in assistance to low-income water customers in the final Fiscal Year 2021 Consolidated Appropriations bill. This funding – the first of its kind – recognizes the critical role of drinking water and wastewater services and the increased strain many households are facing in paying their water bills. While communities and utilities work to offer customer assistance and flexibility to those in need, the scope of the public health and economic crisis requires a federal hand. We look forward to working with the 117th Congress and incoming Biden Administration to further assist customers in need and local utilities that are suffering under the effects of these crises.” 

The utility bill assistance program awards grants to States and Tribes, who in turn will provide funds to owners or operators of public water and wastewater systems or treatment works to reduce outstanding utility balances and rates to low-income households. Three percent of the funds are earmarked for Tribes.

The bipartisan COVID relief package also provides funding to accelerate the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. The Water Sector Coordinating Council (WSCC) and the AWWA are urging U.S. water and wastewater utilities to contact their State and local public health agencies to ensure their staff are properly prioritized in their community’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution. As stated in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) COVID-19 Vaccination Program Interim Playbook for Jurisdiction Operations, water and wastewater utility employees are eligible for distribution priority because they have the Federal designation of “essential workers.” AWWA and other water associations created a template letter for utilities to use when contacting their State and local health authorities.