A federal Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority (WIFIA) is one step closer to becoming a reality. It’s part of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2013, which passed through the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works via a bipartisan vote on March 20th. WRDA is expected to reach the Senate floor in early May.
If enacted into law, WIFIA would provide a practical, low-cost funding mechanism for large water and wastewater infrastructure projects such as pipe replacement, new or upgraded treatment plants, wastewater, reuse and desalination projects, as well as new water supply projects. “WIFIA would help communities repair more critical water infrastructure at a lower cost. Ultimately, WIFIA would benefit everyone who pays a water bill, ” says David LaFrance, American Water Works Association (AWWA) Executive Director, in an AWWA news release.
The AWWA says WIFIA would lower the cost of local water infrastructure projects at little or no long-term cost to the federal taxpayer. The creation of WIFIA would help community water systems of all sizes by providing an alternative funding mechanism for the State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs to leverage for the completion of projects with costs greater than $20 million. In order to provide increased flexibility to predominantly rural states, SRF programs experiencing an increased demand for loan funds would also have the ability to access WIFIA financing by aggregating the costs of multiple smaller cost projects to reach a combined loan amount of $20 million or more.
The concept of WIFIA involves borrowing U.S. Treasury funds to provide low-interest loans, loan guarantees or other credit support to local communities. Loan repayments would essentially go back into the U.S. Treasury, plus interest. WIFIA is modeled after the existing Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program that has been providing similar financial assistance to the nation’s transportation infrastructure since 1998.
In mid-April, water professionals from across the nation flew to Washington D.C. to lobby for WIFIA during the annual AWWA and Water Environment Federation’s (WEF) joint “Water Matters! Fly-In.” The Fly-In educates lawmakers on the issues facing drinking water and clean water utilities. Great Falls AE2S Operations Manager, Nate Weisenburger, PE, is a Junior Trustee of the Montana Section of AWWA (MSAWWA). Weisenburger represented the MSAWWA at the Fly-In, and says, “Attending the Fly-In is a great way to be actively involved in an organization that continually strives to make a difference for its membership.”
Other Fly-In attendees include:
- John Alston, City of Bozeman, MSAWWA Director & AWWA Board of Directors Vice President-elect
- Bill DeMeyer, City of Billings, MSAWWA Section Chair
- Patrick Shea, City of St. Cloud, MN-AWWA Section Chair
- Bob Cockriel, City of Bloomington, MN AWWA Water Utility Council
- Pete Moulton, City of St. Peter, MN; CSWEA
- Brett Jochim, AE2S COO, ND AWWA Water Utility Council Chair
- Mark Peterson, City of Fargo, ND AWWA