WASHINGTON (July 27, 2005) -- Congress is expected to today announce that it will cut the nation's most crucial clean water fund by nearly one-third, at a time when federal officials acknowledge that nearly half of America's rivers and lakes do not meet basic Clean Water Act standards and an estimated 8 million people suffer every year from waterborne illnesses caused by drinking dirty water or swimming in pollution.

"Public health and economic growth depend on clean water. Not only is federal clean water funding responsible for significant water quality improvements nationwide, but it also stimulates local economies and creates jobs," said Nancy Stoner, director of clean water programs for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It makes no sense for Congress to target this crucial clean water loan fund for deep spending cuts."

A joint House-Senate conference committee negotiating the Environmental Protection Agency's budget has decided to slash the agency's Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) by $440 million (or by 33 percent). Reducing funding from recent spending levels of $1.34 billion to just $900 million will undermine a popular and effective program that is vital to helping communities keep their waterways clean. In fact, these cuts average out to a loss of about $1 million per congressional district.

See this table of state-by-state cuts in federal clean water funding (62 k pdf) to find out how Congress' decision to drain funding for local clean water projects leaves states high and dry.

"Clean water is essential to all Americans, which is why it has consistently been ranked among the public's highest priorities," says Art Baggett, president of the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators. "Any reduction in Clean Water SRF funding will have a serious, negative impact on our nation's collective efforts to ensure healthy water quality for communities across America."

Clean Water SRF

As America's largest water quality financing source, the Clean Water SRF offers long-term, low-interest loans to state and local governments to help them meet federal water quality standards by fixing old, decaying sewer pipelines, building and repairing wastewater treatment plants, and controlling other sources of water pollution. Over the past 16 years this program has dispersed more than 14,200 loans -- some $47 billion in all -- to communities large and small to rehabilitate aging sewer plants, minimize raw sewage overflows and reduce stormwater runoff.

This is the second straight year that Congress has cut Clean Water SRF funding under pressure from the Bush administration, according to NRDC's Stoner. Last year, Congress slashed the program by $250 million (from $1.34 billion down to $1.09 billion). The cut to clean water funding is nearly double this year.

It is important to note that the impact of a cut now on the Clean Water SRF has a ripple effect. Every dollar in federal money results in $2.2 dollars in total spending due to state and local matching funds and bond leveraging. Furthermore, the congressional budget resolution, passed earlier this year, virtually locks these cuts into place over the next five years. Thus, the $440 million reduction in Clean Water SRF funding for Fiscal Year 2006 will lead to a total loss to the fund next year of approximately $928 million ($440 million + $528 million due to lost state matching and leveraging), with a total loss over five years of $4.6 billion ($928 million x 5). Once clean water funding is cut, it becomes extremely difficult if not impossible to close this funding gap.

Clean Water Funding Gap

The EPA estimates that clean water infrastructure needs nationwide will cost $390 billion over the next 15 years. The aging of the nation's sewage treatment infrastructure has a direct effect on our waters and the people who come into contact with them. Many systems have exceeded their effective lives and are crumbling because most were designed and built decades ago when urban areas were more compact and had much smaller populations.

Symptoms of the problem include old pipes that leak or break, combined sewer and wet weather overflows that overwhelm treatment capacity, and the growing number of beach closures and polluted waterways. Sewage overflows are an especially large problem. Between 23,000 and 75,000 occur nationwide every year, resulting in the release of 3 billion to 10 billion gallons of untreated wastewater, according to EPA estimates. Millions of Americans get sick every year from swimming in or drinking water contaminated with raw or inadequately treated sewage.

States, localities, and private sources working to address their water infrastructure problems cannot meet the funding gap alone. For many states, water quality needs are urgent -- yet projects are already seriously under-funded. The failure to fully fund the Clean Water SRF will only exacerbate the nation's water quality crisis. Consider these sobering statistics:

  • Continual funding of water infrastructure is essential in the United States since many systems have antiquated pipes that are 50-100 years old and in need of replacement.

  • ASIWPCA estimates that nationally there are $4.1 billion in projects ready to move forward in less than 90 days that are stalled due to the lack of funding. Funding these projects would help reduce pollution while creating jobs in those places.

  • Since the Clean Water Act was passed more than 30 years ago, the federal government's funding for clean water infrastructure in America has decreased by 70 percent; the federal government currently funds a mere five percent of national infrastructure costs.

  • At the current rate of expenditure, the gap in funding for clean water and safe drinking water infrastructure would be more than half a trillion dollars by 2019, according to EPA.