From The Editor | November 19, 2014

'Waters Of The U.S.' And WIFIA: A View From The States


By Kevin Westerling,

The president of the Association of Clean Water Agencies shares his thoughts on the controversial “Waters of the United States” rule and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA).

“All politics is local” is a common phrase, made popular by Tip O’Neill, expressing the importance of understanding the effects of an issue on those you represent. Federal regulations can get very local as well, but the U.S. EPA and Army Corps of Engineers failed to accurately assess the local impact — or the type of reaction — when it came to the rewriting of the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule. Many people potentially affected by the rule are plenty upset, but where is their local representation?

Enter the Association of Clean Water Agencies (ACWA), speaking as the voice of state and interstate water programs in dealings with Congress and the EPA, as well as the USDA, USGS, and other government stakeholders. Focused mainly on Clean Water Act issues, ACWA was founded in 1961 and originally called the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators. Its president, Mike Fulton, recently spoke at the Water & Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA) Annual Meeting in Tucson, AZ, and expressed the states’ four main concerns regarding WOTUS rulemaking:

  1. The scope of the rule may exceed legislative intent;
  2. New terms have been introduced that are subject to interpretation;
  3. There is no process in place for assessing degree of “connectivity”;
  4. Lack of meaningful consultation in advance of proposal

As the ambassador for the states and the water agencies within them, ACWA has been communicating with EPA throughout the (now closed) comment period, citing the need for WOTUS clarification, if not reconsideration. The latest ACWA comments on the rule can be found on their homepage.

The other issue Fulton raised as a concern among the states is the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), a funding mechanism that would enable the EPA to administer low-interest loans for eligible water and wastewater-related infrastructure projects. Though a number of water organizations support WIFIA, including WWEMA, the states are again wary of the repercussions. Specifically, ACWA is worried that WIFIA will compete with traditional state revolving fund (SRF) programs and that small communities will suffer, since WIFIA targets large-scale projects. Proponents of WIFIA stress that the program is meant to coincide with and supplement SRFs, not replace them. Still, ACWA has proposed a “States’ Alternative Proposal to WIFIA” that would shift fund-management responsibilities from the federal government to the states. View the proposal and all of ACWA’s position papers here.

The alternate perspective from ACWA, whose stated mission is “clean water everywhere for everyone,” proves that even those in search of the same outcomes can disagree on how to get there. ACWA’s stance on these two issues seems to be that federal initiatives have disregarded local impact. A tip (inspired by Tip) for the EPA: water policy is every bit as local as politics.