New York and much of the Northeast and Great Lakes region is served by some of the nations oldest wastewater infrastructure, and many of these treatment systems are now exceeding their designed life. These outdated facilities are discharging billions of gallons of raw, untreated sewage into local waterways, threatening public health, closing beaches, harming commercial and recreational fishing opportunities, causing wide ranging ecological degradation, and most importantly threatening the economic vitality of the State.
Our wastewater and drinking water facilities are in desperate need of increased funding to provide for enhancements to meet federal standards; and to be upgraded in order to control stormwater, combined sewer and/or sanitary overflows. Nationwide, over the next 20 years the EPA estimates that $388 billion is needed to upgrade our aging water infrastructure. However, in the face of this growing demand, since 2004 the federal government has reduced funding for vital wastewater infrastructure projects by 50%, shifting the burden of paying for this infrastructure onto cash strapped local governments.
The recently passed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dedicated $4 billion nationwide for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF), the primary funding source for these projects. This provides an important reinvestment in this program to upgrade and restore our wastewater infrastructure, but just the first step. Congress must prioritize the reauthorization of, and reinvestment in the CWSRF this session.
The longer Congress and the states wait to make these investments, the problems only get worse and more costly to correct. It is estimated that the cost of emergency repairs to wastewater and drinking water infrastructure is three to five times more than properly planned capital improvements. Making these needed investments now will not only restore our important water resources, but will create jobs and spark economic activity through the region. It is estimated that between 30,000 and 47,500 jobs are created for every $1 billion invested in water infrastructure projects, providing an unparalleled opportunity for economic recovery.
While the Federal government must continue to be strong player, states too must step up and make needed investments in wastewater infrastructure. In New York, leading labor, construction industry and environmental groups are proposing a $5 billion Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Bond Act as a way of providing a state match to the federal recovery act dollars and keep more state residents working. Governor Paterson and the state legislature must move quickly on this important measure, and other states should follow New Yorks lead.
- Sean Mahar
Director of Government Relations, Audubon New York
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