By Mary Scott Nabers, president and CEO, Strategic Partnerships Inc.
For several days after floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey inundated the City of Beaumont, TX, the city’s 120,000 residents lost water service when several main water intake pumps fell victim to the flood. Beaumont and other cities in the path of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, from Texas to Florida to the Carolinas, are experiencing similar fates with sewage treatment plants, flood control systems, and other water-related facilities. When the water recedes and damages are assessed, water facilities that were already strained (many more than 50 years old) will require replacement or extensive repairs.
This will result in an intense focus on the urgent need for new construction as well as maintenance of water and wastewater systems nationwide. It will also result in a multitude of public-sector contracting opportunities.
Prior to the most recent storms, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) proclaimed that over the next 20 years, Texas wastewater critical needs will exceed $11.83 billion and its drinking water needs are estimated at $33.9 billion. Nationwide, the ASCE gave U.S. water infrastructure systems — including drinking water and wastewater — an average grade of “D.” There is no way to be proud of that grade.
Municipalities throughout the country are scrambling to find funding sources to fund critical water and wastewater projects. In many states, some of these needs are being met through State Revolving Funds (SRFs). These federal funds, administered by state agencies, provide communities a source of low-cost financing for a wide range of water quality infrastructure projects.
In Texas recently, $16.8 million in revolving fund financial assistance was approved for two Texas projects. The City of Blanco was awarded $6.3 million to finance planning and construction costs related to water treatment plant improvements. The City of San Antonio was awarded $10.5 million for water system improvements and replacement of electrical systems, piping, valves, and other necessary improvements at a pump station.
Other recent large revolving fund awards in Texas included $9.5 million to the San Antonio River Authority for a new wastewater treatment plant and $1.9 million to the D&M Water Supply Corporation in Nacogdoches County for water system improvements.
Similar projects are being announced throughout the country. SRFs provided about $186 million to a variety of projects that will upgrade wastewater and drinking water systems in New York State. This funding, when combined with local funds, bond issuances, and other revenues, should jump-start up to $830 million in clean water infrastructure projects.
Water projects in New Jersey will also benefit from revolving fund money for wastewater and drinking water system upgrades. New Jersey’s drinking water revolving fund this year was awarded $15.6 million by the U.S. EPA. That money will leverage almost $100 million in state matching funds, interest, and bonds to finance up to $115 million in drinking water projects in the state. This creates a huge marketplace for companies in the water infrastructure industry.
Contracting opportunities related to water projects are abundant now, and the marketplace will grow quickly if and when the president details his proposed $1 trillion infrastructure plan. Water is a precious commodity and a necessary component of any region’s economic viability.
There are all kinds of alternative funding options and government officials are evaluating all of them. Funding will not be the problem…creating successful public-private partnerships will be the critical component. Citizens and taxpayers are counting on collaboration to lead all of us to a better place when it comes to water resources for the future.
image credit: "2015 Lake Texoma Flooding," usacetulsa, 2015, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/