Last week, Senator Michelle Hinchey of New York District 46 held a forum to address key issues facing New York’s water infrastructure. The forum covered key matters facing New York water systems, including aging infrastructure, lead pipelines, and PFAS contaminants. Further, replacing septic systems and lead service lines, conducting private well testing and treatment, and providing local governments with the necessary funds to maintain clean water systems are all necessary priorities.
Water infrastructure in New York is in desperate need of construction and modernization, with billions of gallons of raw sewage leaking into lakes and rivers each year, consistent breakages of water mains to homes and businesses, and many water treatment plants operating long after their intended lifespans. These frequent issues pose significant public health threats that will continue to worsen without immediate action from the state.
The Water Infrastructure Improvement Act (WIIA) passed in 2015 has made significant leeway in providing grants to assist local governments in clean water projects, although more funding is still necessary, particularly for disadvantaged communities. In 2017, the Clean Water Infrastructure Act committed $2.5 billion, through which the WIIA received $1 billion, to fund clean water initiatives including replacing lead service lines. Each subsequent year, with the exception of 2018, has seen an additional $500 million added into the budget, though an estimated annual increase of $1 billion would be necessary to meet demand.
On December 2nd, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael S Regan announced the allocation of $7.4 billion to states, Tribes, and territories for 2022, of which around half will be employed to assist underserved communities with investing in water infrastructure. This funding will be especially valuable for communities disproportionately affected by failing water infrastructure, but which are unable to afford to fix or replace it without government funding.
At last week’s forum chaired by Senator Hinchey, Reyna Cohen, State Policy Associate at the NYLCV, testified before the New York State Senate Committee on Agriculture in support of updating New York water infrastructure.
In the forum, Cohen stressed the importance of a continued allocation of funds to clean water infrastructure through the Clean Water Infrastructure Act, supplemented by increased staffing at agencies responsible for managing these funds to ensure these funds are efficiently distributed. Cohen further emphasized key supports needed for local governments. These included investing in engineering planning grants for drinking water infrastructure, similar to that for wastewater infrastructure, and providing technical assistance to communities that may be lacking key resources or expertise should also be prioritized to improve action across the state . Finally, ongoing resources to maintain water systems must be allocated to avoid future infrastructure failures or a major backlog in projects such as the current backlog worth nearly $80 billion.
Other advocates including Jeremy Cherson of Riverkeeper and Jessica Ottney-Mahar of the Nature Conservancy highlighted additional essential reforms to address the enormity of need in clean water infrastructure funding. Advocates emphasized the need to address combined sewage overflow, expressed support for increasing the 2022 Environmental Bond Act funding to $4 billion; and put out a call to increase the Environmental Protection Fund to $500 million.