News Feature | June 21, 2017

What Could Trump's Infrastructure Plan Mean For Water?

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Following months of anticipation among water industry pros, the Trump administration has rolled out its proposal for how to rehabilitate the nation’s infrastructure.

“It arrived as a six-page fact sheet packaged with Trump’s $4.1 trillion proposed 2018 budget. As expected, it laid out a vision for $200 billion in direct federal spending over the next decade on needs such as roads, bridges, tunnels, railroads and expanded broadband, along with incentives for states, cities and private investors and efforts to reduce the burdens of regulations,” POLITICO reported.

The proposal stressed the urgency of addressing U.S. infrastructure, arguing that the nation has fallen behind other countries in this respect. The White House cited the nation’s water infrastructure as a key example.

The fact sheet argued that “underperformance is evident in many areas, from our congested highways, which costs the country $160 billion annually in lost productivity, to our deteriorating water systems, which experience 240,000 water main breaks annually.”

Two pillars of Trump’s infrastructure initiative will directly address water issues:

  • Fund the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program (WIFIA) Program. The Environmental Protection Agency’s new WIFIA loan program is designed to leverage private investments in large drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects, particularly those large, high-cost projects that have private ownership or co-investment. Because WIFIA loans can only support up to 49 percent of a project’s eligible cost, the Federal investment must be leveraged with non-Federal sources.
  • Reform the laws governing the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. The Budget proposes to reform the laws governing the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, including by establishing a fee to increase the amount paid by commercial navigation users of inland waterways. In 1986, the Congress mandated that commercial traffic on the inland waterways be responsible for 50 percent of the capital costs of the locks, dams, and other features that make barge transportation possible on the inland waterways. The additional revenue proposed in the Budget will finance future capital investments in these waterways to support economic growth.

Trump discussed these ideas in June during a series of press conferences he dubbed "infrastructure week."

“The theft of American prosperity has come to a screeching halt and a new era of American greatness is about to begin,” Trump said, per Fox News. “It is time to recapture our legacy as a nation of builders — and to create new lanes of travel, commerce and discovery that will take us into the future.”

Critics say the plan does not go far enough to address water infrastructure in rural areas.

“President Trump recently unveiled his infrastructure plan but it did little to address the water crisis in rural America. While the poor condition of pipes for drinking water in Flint, Michigan attracted national [sic.] to the issue, many rural communities in America continue to face considerable risks,” Andrea Gerlak, an associate professor at a policy center within the University of Arizona, wrote in The Hill.

Food & Water Watch, an activism group, charged that Trump is proposing to privatize "much of our nation's infrastructure."

“Privatizing our nation’s infrastructure is akin to a fire sale,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter in a statement. “Americans lose when control of critical assets like our water and roads is given over to Big Banks and corporations. Rates increase, while quality decreases and jobs are lost. What we need is a massive federal reinvestment in our nation’s infrastructure, particularly our water.”

To read more about infrastructure challenges in the drinking water and wastewater space visit Water Online’s Asset Management Solutions Center.