On April 29, the United States Senate passed the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021. If eventually signed into law, it would be the most significant federal investment in the nation’s water infrastructure in decades. So what is the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021 exactly?
This article will summarize the key changes proposed in the bill, and explain how the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021 would fund improvements to water and wastewater systems across the country.
What is the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act?
The Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021 (S.914) is a legislative bill that is currently working its way through the United States Congress. Broadly, the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021 aims to protect water resources and improve Americans’ access to clean and safe drinking water, All told, S.914 includes a total of $35 billion in appropriations over the next five years, providing funding for various grant, loan, and research programs aimed at improving public water infrastructure, particularly for small and underserved communities.
As of this writing, the bill cleared the Senate with strong bipartisan support. A companion bill (H.R.1915) was recently introduced in the House, and differences between the bills would need to be reconciled before the bill is signed into law. If enacted, however, the bill’s provisions would begin to take effect at the start of fiscal year 2022, which begins October 1, 2021.
How does the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act work?
The Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021 will provide support through a few different types of programs, which are broadly defined below:
- Grant Programs: The Act includes over $3 billion in appropriations for a variety of grant programs to support projects that improve and expand water infrastructure. Funds awarded under grant programs do not need to be paid back, however, awards are generally subject to a competitive application process.
- Loan Programs: The Act includes nearly $30 billion in appropriations for loan programs. While these funds must be paid back, the revolving loan funds are designed to provide an affordable option to help municipalities and local governments finance the planning, construction, and modernization of water infrastructure.
- Research: The Act includes $75 million per year to fund US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) research and information-sharing related to drinking water technologies and community needs.
- Workforce Development: The Act reauthorizes the Innovative Water Infrastructure Workforce Development Program (established by America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018). The Act will increase appropriations for this program from $1 to $5 million annually, which can be used to fund grant programs to recruit, train, and retain workers in the water and wastewater utility sector.
Many of these programs were established by earlier pieces of legislation, such as the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, and S.914 will mostly reauthorize these existing programs, increase the appropriations tied to them, and expand eligibility criteria. The programs are broadly categorized to support investment in either drinking water or clean water, as detailed in the sections that follow.
Improving drinking water infrastructure
In many places across the US, the drinking water infrastructure currently in place is prone to leaks or contamination, is not sufficient to handle demand, or makes inefficient use of water resources. That’s why one of the two major provisions of the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act focuses specifically on drinking water infrastructure, and provides funding to construct potable water treatment systems, replace service lines, enhance existing technologies, or otherwise increase access to clean, safe, and affordable drinking water.
Municipalities and local water systems looking to improve drinking water infrastructure will have various opportunities for funding support under S.914, including:
- Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund: At $14.65 billion over five years, this loan program accounts for a significant share of appropriations in S.914. Revolving funds are administered by individual states, and provide low-cost financing to local governments who want to undertake projects to plan, design, build, replace, or modernize aging drinking water infrastructure. The Act also expands debt forgiveness and restructuring options for disadvantaged communities who borrow to fund these types of improvements.
- Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA): The WIFIA loan program was established in 2014, and is administered by the US EPA. S.914 would reauthorize the program and allocate $50 million in each of the next five years, to be used for both drinking water and clean water projects that seek to reduce environmental impacts of water and wastewater infrastructure through water recycling, drought prevention, or other means.
- Assistance for Small and Disadvantaged Communities: The Act will expand an existing grant program under the Safe Drinking Water Act that provides funding to underserved communities (defined as those that lack compliant water services for households, have inadequate financial resources, or have a population under 10,000). S.914 would appropriate $490 million to this grant program over the next five years. Public water systems, tribal governments, and states would all be eligible to apply for funding under this program, and would have the ability to use the funds for design, construction, and enhancement of water system infrastructure, as well as connecting individual households to community water systems, installing filtration systems, or other projects.
- Lead Inventorying Utilization Grant Pilot Program: This new grant program would be administered by the US EPA, and would provide funding for lead reduction projects, such as by replacing aging service lines. Eligible entities for this grant program are municipalities with community water systems where at least 30% of the service lines are suspected of containing lead.
- Addressing Lead in School Drinking Water Systems: S.914 expands existing grant programs that aim to address lead contamination in schools, gradually increasing annual appropriations from the current $20 million up to $50 million in FY2026. Funds will be available to states for purposes of implementing testing and remediation projects to bring drinking water into compliance with lead limits under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
- Drinking Water System Infrastructure Resilience and Sustainability: This grant program will provide $50 million in funding each year for projects that aim to protect public water systems against hazards, including natural events such as extreme weather or flooding, as well as cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Eligibility under this program would extend to public water systems that serve midsized or large communities with populations of 10,000 or more.
- Technical Assistance and Emergency Grants: The Act will reauthorize an existing grant program that is administered by the US EPA, and which provides funding for preventing or mitigating public health threats due to emergencies that impact drinking water. S.914 would allocate $50 million per year for each of the next five years to this program, $15 million of which would be earmarked for small communities.
Municipalities looking for support for drinking water infrastructure improvements would do well to begin researching these programs to learn more about how to apply for funding in case the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act is enacted as expected.
Improving clean water infrastructure
For purposes of the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act, the term “clean water infrastructure” refers broadly to wastewater treatment, sewers, and stormwater management systems. The clean water provisions of S.914 will provide support to municipalities and local communities looking to invest in research and construction projects to improve water use efficiency, increase water reuse, and/or prevent contamination of water resources.
The Act includes a number of loan and grant programs to fund improvements specifically to drinking water infrastructure, including:
- Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund: This existing loan program, which is administered by states, would receive a total of $14.65 billion over five years—the same amount allocated to the drinking water revolving loan fund. Funds under this Clean Water loan program may be used to help municipalities obtain affordable loans to finance the planning, construction, replacement, expansion, or improvement of stormwater or wastewater treatment infrastructure.
- Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA): WIFIA loan program funds can be used for both drinking water and clean water projects aimed at increasing efficiency in water use or energy consumption.
- Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grants: The Act will expand an existing grant program under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act from $225 to $280 million in annual appropriations, with 25% of these funds earmarked for underserved communities. Grant funding under this program is available to local governments of all sizes, and can be used to plan, design, or construct publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) or other facilities that receive and treat combined wastewater streams, as well as infrastructure for stormwater management.
- Wastewater Efficiency Grant Pilot Program: This new grant program will be administered by the US EPA, and will award funding to 15 participants in amounts up to $4 million each. Eligible projects under this program include those that create or improve systems that convert waste to energy, such as through sludge collection, installation of anaerobic digestion systems, methane capture and transfer, as well as upgrade projects to convert wastewater and byproducts to energy.
- Clean Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Program: The Act includes $25 million per year in appropriations for this grant program, the proceeds of which can be used to fund projects that protect clean water infrastructure against natural hazards, such as storms, droughts, or flooding, as well as cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Eligibility under this program would extend to municipalities, as well as larger state or interstate agencies of all sizes. In most cases, grant funding under this program is limited to 75% of total project cost, though up to 90% is allowable for small or underserved communities.
- Pilot Program for Alternative Water Source Projects: This existing grant program provides funding awards for projects that seek to implement treatment methods for water, wastewater, and stormwater for groundwater recharge, potable reuse, or other reuse applications. S.914 would allocate $25 million per year to this program, which would be available to entities that provide water for municipal, industrial, and agricultural uses in regions experiencing critical water supply needs.
Given the likelihood of S.914’s eventual passage, municipalities or other entities that need support for wastewater infrastructure development or stormwater management should research similar programs in their states to learn more about how to apply for funding under these and other programs.
Can SAMCO help?
SAMCO has over 40 years of experience in providing custom water and wastewater treatment solutions. If you have questions about potable water generation or wastewater treatment technologies to meet the needs of your facility, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at our contact page. You can also learn about some of the benefits of working with SAMCO by visiting our municipal water page.
For more articles on water and wastewater treatment, head on over to our blog. Some that might be of interest to you include:
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- The Importance of Wastewater Treatment for Your Facility: Is it Necessary?
- How to Choose the Best Wastewater Treatment System for Your Plant
- What Are Aerobic Wastewater Treatment Systems and How Do They Work?
- What Is Anaerobic Wastewater Treatment and How Does It Work?
- What Is a Wastewater Treatability Study and How Does it Work?
- How Much Does a Water/Wastewater Treatability Study Cost for Your Plant?