News Feature | May 10, 2022

Biden's Infrastructure Funding May Never Reach Drinking Water Systems That Need It Most

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga


Though there’s little question that water systems of all sizes are in need of additional funding to upgrade infrastructure and continue to provide clean drinking water to ratepayers, some of those with the greatest needs may struggle to access federal funding recently set aside for them.

“The federal government is handing out $11.7 billion earmarked for drinking water system improvements under the new infrastructure law, and it’s prioritizing … underserved, drought-stricken areas,” Bloomberg Law reported. “While nearly half of the federal money from the new infrastructure law will be available as grants or principle-forgiveness loans, some systems may sit out applying if there’s a chance they’d end up with repayable loans.”

A landmark, $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill signed late last year demonstrated a significant focus on water system funding from the Biden administration — it allocated $11.7 billion for the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund and Clean Water State Revolving Fund. But translating these federal dollars into tangible improvements for severely outdated infrastructure has proven to be more challenging than many might have thought. State officials have voiced fear that the method for determining how much funding they will get is based on outdated data, for instance.

And now, challenges with the ways in which the federal government distributes funding to smaller water systems around the country are coming into focus. Smaller systems with desperate infrastructure funding needs have faced hurdles in accessing these federal dollars for years, possibly explaining why their drinking water issues persist.

“There are reasons why some small towns don’t apply for these kinds of loans,” WKAR explained. “They might not be able to afford the debt. Also, it takes a lot of money to hire contractors and determine a system’s assets. That’s needed in order to apply for the loans. A lot of these small towns don’t have the expertise needed to fill out an application on their own. It’s a big expense and there’s no guarantee the town will get a loan or grant.”

But, despite the challenges, water systems of all sizes may not have an opportunity to tap into such significant funding again. For consumers’ sake, it may be worth taking on the challenges before the opportunity is lost.

“It’s a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to ‘cure nagging problems that many of our rural water systems are trying to address,’” Mike Hamman, a former water advisor to New Mexico’s governor, told Bloomberg Law.

To read more about how water systems around the country access federal grants, visit Water Online’s Funding Solutions Center.