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Progress - Winter 2009 - Steps Taken to Provide Funding

(by James Tierney, Assistant Commissioner for Water Resources)

Thanks to effective partnerships, we've made significant progress on funding for and implementation of clean water infrastructure. The New York Water Environment Association (NYWEA) has been a positive force at the center of these efforts.

Let's take stock:

  • In early 2008, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) conservatively estimates that $36.2 billion is needed over the next 20 years to repair and upgrade public wastewater treatment systems. This report resulted from a legislative request initiated by NYS Assemblyman Robert Sweeney.
  • NYS Department of Health reports that $38 billion will be needed for drinking water infrastructure over the same period.
  • NYSDEC Commissioner Peter Grannis directs his agency to mobilize and establishes a director-level position (Director of Clean and Safe Water Infrastructure Funding) staffed by the highly capable Sandra Allen.
  • Governor David Patterson establishes the Clean Water Collaborative, a coalition led by Pete Grannis, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and Ross Pepe, with a first focus on re-engaging the federal government as a partner in addressing the water infrastructure crisis.
  • Active engagement with Congress and federal agencies includes Governor Patterson and his Deputy Secretary for the Environment Judith Enck testifying before Congress on the looming water infrastructure crisis. New York's Congressional delegation is highly supportive.
  • President Barack Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes significant funding for water infrastructure. The EPA's administrator, Lisa Jackson, personally delivers to New York a check for $432 million for wastewater infrastructure - twice the amount received by any other state and constituting the largest grant provided to a state in EPA history. Significant federal funds for water infrastructure are provided to USDA Rural Development.
  • Environmental Facilities Corporation, under the leadership of EFC Chairman Grannis and EFC Acting President Matt Millea, reviews, ranks and awards all funds to high priority projects. This includes allocating the required 20 percent of the funding toward "Green Innovation" projects: water and energy conservation, and "green infrastructure" water treatment systems.
  • USDA Rural Development deploys over $48 million in stimulus funding for water infrastructure in 2009, with the potential for even more. Hats off to USDA's hardworking Dave Miller and his team.
  • In November of 2009, Congress enacted and President Obama signed a 2011 appropriations bill that nearly triples federal funding of wastewater infrastructure. New York's projected share for next year: $228.9 million. This program would have expired by 2011 under a Bush Administration proposal.
  • Commissioner Grannis directs the NYSDEC and EFC to undertake a public review of the scoring system governing the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. The goal is to highlight asset management, smart growth, water efficiency, energy efficiency, and fundamental fairness toward "good actors."

Our work is not done. Significant funding for water infrastructure will be necessary over the long term to protect the public health and environment, relieve the pressure on hard pressed municipalities and provide good paying jobs - a triple win. We also need to be mindful that re-built infrastructure must be adequately maintained so it will last its full useful life, and then some. It is heartening to see the positive results of our efforts thus far.

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