Don’t Let Your Community Get Soaked: Protect State Water Programs
By Kate Fried
If you drank a glass of water, brushed your teeth or made a meal for your family today, chances are that you were able to do so thanks in part to a crucial program. The Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) are state-administered programs that provide the primary source of federal money to communities needed to ensure the upkeep of critical drinking and wastewater systems. But funding for the SRFs has eroded in recent years, and Congress is now considering a proposal that if passed, will undermine the integrity of these important cash flow systems even more.
Tacked onto a big water infrastructure bill is an industry-backed program known as the Water Infrastructure Financing Innovation Act (WIFIA). It would give low-interest loans primarily to private water corporations to finance certain projects. If approved, WIFIA will make it harder for smaller communities to maintain and upgrade their drinking water and wastewater systems.
It may strike one as odd that a bill with the words “water” and “innovation” in its title would cripple local water systems. That’s because WIFIA is actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing. WIFIA would, in effect, compete with the SRFs for federal resources and place inappropriate pressure on local governments to privatize their drinking water and wastewater systems.
As we’ve seen time and again, private companies are not responsible stewards of our essential water systems. When profits are an entity’s main motivation, integrity of service goes down the drain. That’s why cities like St. Louis, Missouri and Fort Worth, Texas are just two of many that have recently opted to keep their water systems under public control.
A key problem with this proposal is that it wouldn’t let cities and towns use tax-exempt bonds to cover the portion of their infrastructure projects that WIFIA doesn’t fund. If you consider the fact that state and local governments financed more than $1.65 trillion of infrastructure investment over the last decade through the tax-exempt bond market, according to the National Association of Counties, you can see why this would be a problem. This detail makes WIFIA effectively useless to most municipalities.
While it may sound strange, WIFIA would also help facilitate another threat to our common water resources that you may have heard us talk about from time to time: fracking. The program would prioritize funding for water projects “in significant energy exploration, development, or production areas,” an opaque way of saying that it would help facilitate destructive oil and gas development projects. So not only will your water be expensive and poorly managed, it may also light on fire.
Not surprisingly, private water companies and the trade groups that represent them are eager to see WIFIA become a reality. Anyone who wants access to safe, clean, affordable drinking water, and sewer systems that don’t overflow and contaminate their community, should oppose it. (That’s you). Take action today and tell Congress to support our State Revolving Fund programs, not handouts to private corporations.