New York's Underused Water Infrastructure Funds Can Support Climate Resiliency

Despite the nearly two years that have passed since Hurricane Sandy came onshore and caused unprecedented damage across the Northeast, many communities are still in the process of rebuilding. To help communities repair facilities and prevent damages associated with future extreme storms, Congress provided additional water infrastructure funding for New York’s and New Jersey’s State Revolving Funds (SRFs). We submitted comments this week asking New York to use unallocated SRF money to fully fund Sandy rebuilding projects and to ensure that communities are implementing innovative and climate-resilient solutions like green infrastructure and water efficiency. This is on top of previous comments we submitted to New Jersey on these same issues.

As a condition of receiving annual federal grants to capitalize each state’s revolving loan funds, states are required to submit an annual plan for how they will spend the money. In New York’s proposed plan for the upcoming year, the demand for funding to rebuild facilities and structures damaged by Hurricane Sandy and to prepare for future storms far exceeds the amount available.

In the case of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, more than $900 million worth of projects applied for about $328 million of available funding. For the Drinking Water Fund, roughly $68 million of project requests were received for approximately $65 million of funding. Even though the state is rolling over more than $1.2 billion in unused money from last year, it is not planning to fund all of the Sandy rebuilding projects that have requested financing. Clearly, New York has the financial ability to provide support for these projects and should do so to help these communities rebuild and become more resilient to future storms.

In deciding how to distribute funding, New York also has the opportunity to maximize the effectiveness of public investments in water and wastewater utilities. We recently released two papers detailing how states can use water efficiency, green infrastructure, and flood resiliency measures to build community climate resilience. Specifically, New York can:

  • Expand application of flood resiliency requirements to include all SRF projects so that critical infrastructure dollars are not wasted on projects that fail to consider both current and future flood risks and thus, remain vulnerable to flood-related damages; and
  • Require project applicants to evaluate and implement all water efficiency and green infrastructure measures possible. These measures help communities address existing water quality and water supply needs while also helping to build resilience to longer-term climate risks.

By adopting our recommendations, New York can use sensible and innovative solutions to help make its communities truly resilient to a changing climate.