Enviro Group Calls On NYS To Increase Water Infrastructure Funding

Feb 7, 2019

Environmental Advocates of New York says too many water infrastructure projects are waiting in the wings for funding, according to a report released Thursday. The group wants the state legislature to allocate a major increase in funding over previous years.

The report released by Environmental Advocates of New York says the state’s Water Infrastructure Improvement Act has been successful since its creation in 2015 by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the legislature. However, Environmental Advocates Clean Water Associate Rob Hayes says there are more projects in line than funding available.

“The Environmental Facilities Corporation, who administers the program, has done a great job at getting the funding that they have out the door and to communities,” Hayes says. “But if we’re really serious about protecting clean water and putting New York on a path to meeting our enormous water infrastructure needs, the state needs to step up and do much much more to fund this program.”

More, he says, than the $2.5 billion Governor Cuomo announced for clean water projects during his joint State of the State/budget address in January.

“However, when you actually examine the governor’s budget bills, that $2.5 billion is nowhere to be found. In fact, he only allocates $500 million in new water funding in this year’s budget. The rest of that $2 billion is left up as a promise,” Hayes says. “Now, we believe that communities really need the certainty that that money is going to be there for them in the long term as they’re planning out these incredibly multi-year projects, debating whether to fill out time-consuming applications. We need a full, multi-year commitment in this years’ budget. And we believe that the legislature should go farther than the governor both in providing that multi-year commitment and by providing $5 billion over five years.”

State Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman Erica Ringewald, on behalf of both DEC and the state Department of Health, addresses the $2.5 billion versus $500 million.  

“Whether we appropriate $500 million more in each of the next five years or we appropriate $2.5 billion now, it’s still going to spend out on the same schedule,” says Ringewald. “This report is not drawing a meaningful distinction.”

Environmental Advocates’ report, “Untapped Potential: Water Infrastructure Spending in New York,” highlights the success of the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act, or WIAA, which is funded through the Clean Water Infrastructure Act.

“In the program’s first three years, between 2015 and 2017, WIAA allocated a greater number of grants each year, with almost four times the number of projects receiving grants in 2017 when compared to 2015,” Hayes says.

He says water infrastructure projects help prevent water contamination as crumbling sewers, water mains and wastewater treatment plants contribute to threats to human health and the environment. Hayes says it’s not that allocated funds are being held up for projects.

“Rather, the current level of funding for WIAA falls far short of what’s needed to meet the needs submitted by local governments,” Hayes says. “Over the last three years, when local governments submitted a project proposal, they had a 50/50 chance of receiving a WIAA grant.  Those aren’t the odds we need to protect New York’s drinking water but, at the moment, there simply isn’t enough funding to go around.”

According to the report, the Hudson Valley requested the most grant dollars over the three-year period, 2015-2017.

“The Hudson valley is absolutely an epicenter of the water infrastructure crisis,” says Hayes. “So many river towns with old sewage pipes spilling millions if not billions of gallons of raw sewage into the Hudson every single year. It’s a serious problem that we need to address.”

Eligible projects that were not awarded funding in 2017 and 2018 numbered 14 in Westchester; 11 in Orange and one each in Dutchess, Putnam and Ulster Counties, according to Environmental Advocates, which obtained its data from the Environmental Facilities Corporation.