News Feature | February 16, 2016

Obama Budget Slammed For Meager Water Funding

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

President Obama is getting criticism from both Republicans and Democrats for cutting clean-water funding in his proposed budget for 2017.

Released last week, Obama’s budget proposal would cut the U.S. EPA’s water funding programs by over $250 million.

The Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF), which provides low-interest loans to states for environmental water-quality projects, would be cut by around $414 million. The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which is dedicated to drinking-water infrastructure projects, would increase by $157 million.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are calling this trade-off “foolish,” according to Politico. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, invoked the crisis in Flint, MI, where lead-contaminated water is threatening public health.

"We cannot take money away from the fund that cleans up the polluted Flint River — the source of Flint’s drinking water — and put it into fixing Flint’s pipes," Cardin said, per the report.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-OK, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, also found fault with the proposed cuts. Inhofe is a supporter of the state revolving fund programs.

“While the president’s proposal provides additional funds for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, it took the media exposing the crisis in Flint to make this happen. Furthermore, the administration does this at the expense of cutting the Clean Water State Revolving Fund by an even greater amount. This is just a shell game. In the coming weeks, my committee will seek to remind the administration of the critical nature of both of these programs and of the new Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act that provides another tool to help address our nation’s water infrastructure needs,” he said in a statement.

Nevertheless, the White House is framing its budget proposal as a water-policy win. Officials point, in particular, to the request for $13.4 billion in Interior Department funding.

"President Obama’s budget for Reclamation reflects a strong commitment to our ongoing mission of effectively managing water and hydropower in the West," Reclamation Bureau Commissioner Estevan López said in a statement. "This budget supports our efforts to provide safe, sustainable and resilient water and hydropower through investment in infrastructure development, improvements and maintenance, dam safety, and water rights settlements with Tribal nations."

The White House also points to a proposed $260 million aimed at funding a national water innovation strategy. Environmental Leader zeroed in on the parts of this proposal:

  • $98.6 million for the federal WaterSMART program, which promotes water conservation initiatives and technologies.
  • $4 million of new funding for the U.S. Geological Service to provide near real-time assessment of water use during drought, so communities can better manage their water.
  • $28.6 million to support R&D at the Bureau of Reclamation. These funds include $8.5 million for the water technology solutions challenge program, a technology challenge prize focused on next-generation water-treatment technologies; $5.8 million for desalination and water purification, and $2 million to continue the Open Water Data, which aims to centralize national water data collected by various agencies and make it more accessible.
  • $25 million in new funding for the Department of Energy [DOE] to launch a new Energy-Water Desalination Hub that will focus on developing technologies to reduce the cost, energy input, and carbon emission levels of desalination. The DOE would also invest nearly $20 million in complementary R&D on desalination technologies relevant to fossil, concentrated solar power, and geothermal applications.
  • $15 million in additional funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture research to support agricultural production and practices that conserve water.
  • $88 million for the National Science Foundation for water research, focusing on technologies that increase the U.S. water supply, drinking water quality, and water for use in agriculture and industry processes or cooling.

For similar stories, visit Water Online’s Funding Solutions Center.