News Feature | February 8, 2018

Will Expanding WIFIA Endanger It?

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,
@sarmje

infrastructure reg new

Water utilities are concerned that U.S. EPA’s loan program for water and wastewater projects might be expanded — to death.

“A fledgling water infrastructure loan program at the EPA is experiencing an unusual problem in Washington: It may enjoy too much political support,” Bloomberg BNA reported.

The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program enjoys support from both Democrats and Republicans. It was created four years ago, and the U.S. EPA chose its initial round of loan recipients last year.

The program has become so popular that the White House may expand it, the report said. It could be asked to provide loans for Superfund site cleanups, flood control, shipping and navigation, among other domains, the report said.

The potential expansion is creating anxiety in the water utility sector. Dan Hartnett, a lobbyist with the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, spoke to Bloomberg BNA about the problem.

“Before WIFIA is looked to as the answer to a wider range of questions, we need to get through a [loan] cycle or two and evaluate how it’s worked,” he said. “[The industry] would urge some caution there and make sure WIFIA is succeeding where it was meant to succeed first.”

WIFIA itself has been a source of concern for utilities in the past. Water utilities expressed concerns that it would supplant larger loan programs.

“To appease states, Congress inserted right-of-first-refusal language that would require the EPA to notify states when water utilities seek funding under WIFIA, and states would then have 60 days to decide whether to fund the project under the state revolving fund programs or to let it be funded under WIFIA,” Bloomberg BNA previously reported.

Water utilities say they are experiencing an infrastructure crisis. There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Image credit: "Water main break at 6th & Weller, 1918," Seattle Municipal Archives © 1918, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/