Environmental Groups Say More Is Needed To Fund Water Infrastructure Projects

Apr 1, 2019

New York state’s new budget passed overnight Sunday into Monday includes $500 million in clean water infrastructure. Environmentalists say that while they appreciate the allocation, it’s just a dent in the state’s water infrastructure needs. State officials say it builds on New York’s historic $2.5 billion investment.

The $500 million in funding for clean water projects includes repairing and upgrading water infrastructure, protecting drinking water at its source and responding to sources of toxic contamination such as PFAS and toxic algal outbreaks. Dan Shapley is water quality program director for Riverkeeper.

“Five-hundred million dollars is really a good amount and it’s an important investment to see on an annual basis. The important thing that we know from talking with communities is that they need to know that this is assured year after year after year after year because the projects that we’re talking about they’re complicated they’re expensive,” Shapley says. “And if a community commits to planning to upgrade its infrastructure right now, it’s going to take a couple of years before it gets to the point where it can even seek that grant funding.’

Shapley called it a little disappointing that the full doubling wasn’t in the budget but considers the funding the first $500 million installment of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s $2.5 billion pledged for clean water projects.

“We’re going to have to go back in future years and make sure that the annual spending keeps up and doesn’t get sacrificed to other priorities in future years,” Shapley says.

Erica Ringewald is spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“No state in the nation is as focused as New York on putting people to work upgrading our water infrastructure and providing communities with clean water,” Ringewald says.”

“So this $500 million, while it’s great, we just felt like there could be more upfront,” Cunningham says.“We were asking for $5 billion over five years to address that need.”

That’s Maureen Cunningham. She’s senior director for Environmental Advocates of New York.

“In 2008, the state came out with a figure for how much it would take to fix our wastewater and drinking water infrastructure, and that was $80 billion over 20 years, which actually translates to $4 billion a year,” says Cunningham. “And so, while we appreciate the funding in the budget, the $500 million that was put in the budget, we just don’t feel like it’s enough. It’s basically a drop in the bucket of what is needed to replace and repair the wastewater and drinking water infrastructure in New York.”

Again, the DEC’s Ringewald:

“Through Governor Cuomo’s leadership, the additional $500 million dedicated in this budget builds on the historic, ongoing investments through the $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017,” says Ringewald. “These investments will continue to leverage federal funding and low-cost Environmental Facilities Corporation loans to municipalities, ensuring our communities are advancing critical projects. This new funding is the next installment in the Governor’s commitment to provide another $2.5 billion for water funding – for a $5 billion total – and is just one part of our comprehensive work across the state to protect water quality.”

Shapley points to areas in the state with pressing needs.

“If you like at Riverkeeper’s water quality testing data, we see really clear patterns around the Capital District continuing to need investments to address combined sewer overflows there; Utica, Newburgh and other areas where those combined sewer overflows really cause a particular problem,” says Shapley. “We also see a much more generalized problem with water quality that follows rain in many, many more places.”

Cunningham says there is a long line of municipalities statewide awaiting funding, with shovel-ready projects to fix wastewater infrastructure and implement drinking water improvements. Environmental Advocates pointed to such needs in its report released in February.