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#InvestInWaterMA coalition leaders point to bigger U.S. grants for water-sewer projects, lower costs for locals
Jayda Leder-Luis , Community Contributor
While many details remain unclear about how the newly signed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will deliver funding to Massachusetts cities and towns, the #InvestInWaterMA Coalition highlighted that, along with the long fought for funding increase, the new law contains two clear wins for critical water and sewer infrastructure upgrades: Increased incentives in the form of grants and principal forgiveness and reductions in the level of matching state funds required to secure federal aid.
“We’ll know a lot more in coming days and weeks about the mechanisms and requirements for getting access to this new source of infrastructure funding, but what’s clear already is we got a big win for cities, towns, and water-sewer agencies. More direct grants and funds for forgiveness of principal on water projects that require borrowing through the bond market is a potential game-changer, if acted upon in a timely manner,” said Jeff Mahoney, executive director of the Utility Contractors Association of New England (UCANE), one of the founding partners of the #InvestInWaterMA Coalition. “For communities borrowing funds to upgrade water infrastructure, principal forgiveness can be as valuable for making projects affordable as a direct infusion of cash.”
“At the same time,” Mahoney added, “for many kinds of drinking water and wastewater projects going forward, awarding authorities will have to provide only a 10 percent match, down from the 20 percent which is currently required. For projects like removing lead service lines and protecting drinking water against ’emerging contaminants’ like PFAS, no state or local match will be required.”
UCANE President Marcella Albanese, President of Albanese Brothers Inc., a specialized underground utility contractor, said: “Between the increased levels of funding now available for water, sewer, and stormwater projects, and how much will be awarded competitively, what we’re hearing from our congressional leaders is cities, towns, and agencies should be moving very quickly to get proposals and funding requests in to the Clean Water Trust for consideration in 2022 and beyond.”
The Commonwealth is set to receive at least $1.1 billion in water-infrastructure funding from the infrastructure bill, with millions more potentially available through competitively-awarded grants.
According to a briefing the United States Environmental Protection Agency provided to UCANE and other stakeholders, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will provide:
· $15 billion nationwide for lead service line replacements through drinking-water state revolving funds like the Clean Water Trust, with no required state match, 49 percent of funds provided to communities as grants or principal-forgiveness loans, and 51 percent provided as low-interest loans. (Replacing lead service lines with copper or other types of piping delivers major public health benefits, including protecting children and adults against the damaging life-long effects of exposure to lead.)
· $11.7 billion nationwide for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund Program, with the same 49-51 split for grants, principal forgiveness, and low-interest loans, but with the required state match lowered from the current 20 percent to 10 percent
· $11.7 billion is also provided nationwide for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program for wastewater and sewer projects, with the same 49-51 split for grants, principal forgiveness, and low-interest loans, but with the required state match lowered from the current 20 percent to 10 percent
· $4 billion nationwide, delivered through drinking-water state revolving funds as grants and principal forgiveness, to remediate PFAS and other emerging contaminants in drinking water, with no required state match.
· $5 billion nationwide for PFAS and emerging-contaminant remediation as grants targeted to “small, underserved, and disadvantaged communities,” which in Massachusetts would flow through the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The #InvestInWaterMA coalition is seeking to ensure that critical water and sewer infrastructure projects get the priority they need and deserve as Governor Baker’s administration and the Legislature are allocating COVID relief funding and federal infrastructure assistance.
Other organizations backing the #InvestInWaterMA coalition include the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBIO), NAIOP Massachusetts–The Commercial Real Estate Development Association, the American Council of Engineering Companies of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Water Works Association, the New England Water Works Association, and the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority Wastewater Advisory Committee.
Confirming earlier findings by the Massachusetts Water Infrastructure Finance Commission, the Office of the State Auditor’s Division of Local Mandates in 2017 determined that cities, towns, and local water-sewer authorities face at least an $18 billion funding gap over the next 20 years to cover critically important drinking and wastewater infrastructure upgrades, plus billions more for stormwater, climate resiliency, and emerging contaminants such as PFAS.
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