The recently-approved New York state budget includes a doubling of investments in water infrastructure. Environmental groups and others are applauding the increase.
The enacted budget invests $350 million over the next two years to help communities upgrade and maintain drinking and wastewater infrastructure. First established in 2015, the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act is a three-year grant program started with an original investment of $200 million. Dan Shapley is Water Quality Program Manager for Westchester County-based environmental group Riverkeeper.
“And what’s amazing about the governor and the legislature’s commitment in 2016, the second year of the program, is they’ve effectively doubled the investment in those community water and wastewater systems,” says Shapley.
He says the amount will be spread out over two years and the grants are critically important for communities.
“New York State has the greatest need for wastewater infrastructure improvements as defined by the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] and the third greatest need for drinking water improvements,” Shapley says. “So it just shows how important this investment by the state is because the federal investment in this type of work has declined dramatically over the years.”
Shapley says older cities with aging infrastructure along the Hudson River are in need of funded improvements as are economically-struggling communities along some of the tributaries.
“Well, the need in the Hudson Valley is certainly great,” says Shapley. “There is over $1 billion worth of defined need for wastewater infrastructure alone in the Hudson River watershed.”
Jeff Kaplan is mayor of the Village of Ellenville in Ulster County and is highly interested in receiving grant money.
“The Village of Ellenville has an older system. We can use some valve work. We can use some mapping so when we do have an emergency we know exactly where all of our valves are. When you have an older system oftentimes there are areas in your community that you don’t know where your valves are,” Kaplan says. “And then finally, one of our sources of water is a reservoir on the top of the mountain outside of the village proper. And the piping up to that reservoir has been damaged over the years by the various floods that we’ve had.”
He says village officials would like to find an alternate well water source. Kaplan thinks a state grant would be a perfect fit for this. Plus, he welcomes grant money that would not cost taxpayers any money.
“We have a project now that we’ve been working with the Environmental Facilities Corporation in various projects in our community,” says Kaplan. "They helped us with putting in a new sewer plant and now we are working on an interest-free loan as we do the three steps that I mentioned earlier in trying to resolve some of our water issues.”
Meanwhile, Shapley describes which kinds of communities, like Ellenville, should qualify for the state’s water infrastructure grants.
“The amount of money coming to the Valley will really be directed at communities that have engineering for projects done and those communities that are most in need of the money, either because of their median incomes or poverty rates, so they need the most help financially, or also if they have certain types of projects that will improve water quality the most dramatically, if they’re having overflows of sewage, for instance, into our waterways,” Shapley says.
In addition, the New York State Association of Counties commends lawmakers for addressing clean water infrastructure in the budget. NYSAC has called for standardized drinking water regulations, a state and local public drinking water safety taskforce, and a more streamlined process for notifying the public of potential drinking water concerns.