Water Resources Development Act Looks Promising for Making Water Infrastructure More Resilient

The U.S. Senate and House conference committee’s report on the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), or the Water Resources Reform Development Act (WRRDA) as it’s known this time around, has been approved by the House and Senate after months of negotiations. As my colleagues Alex Adams and Scott Slesinger have written about, the conference report helps to address some of the problematic provisions that were in the earlier bills passed by the Senate and House. The conference report also includes several provisions related to water infrastructure funding that will help communities become more resilient to droughts, floods, and a range of other extreme events. 

As I’ve written about previously, integrating climate resiliency measures into EPA’s State Revolving Funds can better protect public health and critical infrastructure from climate change risks and extreme weather events. Many of the solutions that we’ve been advocating for, such as increased investments in water conservation and maximizing the use of green infrastructure techniques to manage stormwater, are included in the conference report. Several provisions in the report help to modernize these funding programs, specifically the Clean Water SRF (CWSRF), allowing these funds to be better utilized to prepare local communities for climate risks:   

  • Beginning in FY16, CWSRF project applicants are required to maximize water use efficiency and reuse, as well as energy efficiency. (Sec. 5002)
  • Projects for managing and reusing stormwater, recycling wastewater, and that reduce the need for wastewater treatment through water conservation and reuse measures are now specifically called out by Congress as eligible for funding assistance, codifying a practice that is already allowed under EPA guidance. (Sec. 5003)
  • Wastewater treatment projects applying for assistance must develop and implement a fiscal sustainability plan that, among other things, certifies that the applicant has evaluated and will be implementing water and energy conservation efforts as part of the plan. (Sec. 5003)
  • States are also now specifically allowed to provide additional subsidization through loan forgiveness and negative interest loans for projects that address water-efficiency and energy-efficiency goals, mitigate stormwater runoff, or encourage sustainable project planning and construction. (Sec. 5003)
  • Apart from the CWSRF, the conference report authorizes EPA to fund municipalities to undertake watershed pilot projects, such as green infrastructure initiatives to reduce stormwater pollution; integrated management plans for surface water, groundwater, and stormwater resources; municipality-wide plans to reduce stormwater discharges to impaired waters; and efforts to increase the climate resiliency of wastewater treatment infrastructure. (Sec. 5011)

These improvements to the Clean Water SRF come on the heels of ground-breaking legislation recently passed by the Illinois General Assembly, which will soon be signed by Governor Quinn. SB 2780 significantly expands the amount of funding that the state can provide to water efficiency, green infrastructure, and other solutions that make our water and wastewater infrastructure more resilient to climate risks.

These recent actions demonstrate that legislators from the state-level to the federal-level recognize that climate change is threatening the health, safety, and well-being of communities across the country. This threat requires greater investments in sustainable solutions like water efficiency and green infrastructure, which provide multiple benefits from making water supplies more resilient to reducing water pollution, among many others. We look forward to working with EPA, Illinois, and other states to implement these infrastructure funding changes, which will help make our nation more resilient to the climate impacts already being felt and those looming in the years and decades ahead.