As Governor Andrew M. Cuomo prepares to submit his SFY2017-18 Budget proposal to the Legislature, advocates have stepped up the call for investing in our communities’ drinking and wastewater infrastructure. Within his proposal, they urge the Governor to:
- build on prior financial commitments with an $800 million annual investment; and
- make the Water Infrastructure Investment Act of 2015 (WIIA) – which is due to sunset after SFY2017-18 – a permanent budget line item.
Several studies on the immediate and long-term needs indicate that at least $800 million is needed as an annual investment to repair and replace the state’s complex wastewater infrastructure systems alone, significant parts of which date back more than a century.
Liz Moran, water & natural resources associate of Environmental Advocates of New York said, “Citizens have the basic expectation of government that the water they drink and recreate in is clean and healthy. This responsibility has become a challenge due to old, dilapidated pipes hurting our communities, our waterways, and making it harder to grow local economies. The good news is that the Governor has begun to turn around decades of inadequate investment – and with a greater focus on the safety of our water, the Governor’s leadership can help all communities #FixOurPipes!”
Ross J. Pepe, president of the Construction Industry Council and executive director of the Construction Advancement Institute said, “CIC/CAI report findings demonstrate that communities throughout the region cannot do it alone and desperately need the support of New York State to meet this challenge. It is vital the state increase Clean Water funds in next year’s budget to $800 million to address municipal needs and enhance our environment, economy and quality of life.”
Paul Gallay, president and Hudson Riverkeeper said, “The time for increasing state leadership on environmental issues is at hand, and the Governor and Legislature should double down on this important investment. We and our partners sampled over 400 locations in the Hudson River Watershed this year, demonstrating the continuing extent to which sewer leaks and overflows are contaminating the waters where we swim, boat and fish. This state grants program is essential to helping communities provide what we all want: clean water.”
Tracy Brown, director of Western Sound Programs at Save the Sound said, “On Long Island Sound the public health hazard of fecal pollution in our water causes communities to close beaches and shellfishing beds, which hurts local economies and our quality of life. Communities around the Sound and across the state need state funds to keep their sewage infrastructure in good repair. A long-term commitment of $800 million in state grants for water infrastructure will go a long way to protect local economies and quality of life for all New Yorkers.”
William C. Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council said, “The Adirondack Park is the source of the Hudson River and many of the state’s other major rivers, making our small, rural communities the first line of defense for much of the state's water. All of our towns have only a few hundred, or a few thousand, residents to foot the bill for multi-million dollar clean water projects. Those towns need help bridging the gap between what is needed and what they can afford.”
Liz Marcello, campaign manager for Reinvent Albany said, “Clean water is a fundamental responsibility of government and should come before handing out billions in tax payer subsidies to businesses.”
Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters said, “As the recent sewage spill into Lake Onondaga clearly demonstrated, water quality crises are still at a tipping point. We have been pleased that the Governor, Senate and Assembly have begun to make the multi-year commitments necessary to address this critical issue. Such efforts must only be the start, however. We hope to see $800 million in clean water grants allocated this year so that municipalities can finally meet their infrastructure needs by fixing crumbling pipes and sewers.”
Erin Crotty, executive director of Audubon New York said, “Meeting the growing need for water infrastructure improvements across the state is not only imperative to the health of New York’s diverse communities but also our natural environment and the wildlife it supports. Investments in our state’s wastewater and drinking water infrastructure not only help safeguard freshwater resources for people, birds, and wildlife, but also the economy, through job recreation and increased recreational opportunities.”
Ned Sullivan, president of Scenic Hudson said, “Continued investment in the region’s water and wastewater infrastructure is crucial to the safety and health of our waters – for fishing, swimming and drinking and to meet the basic provisions of our environmental laws. These investments will create jobs, fuel and enable the region's economic growth, and contribute to the quality of life that makes the Hudson Valley a great place to live, work and enjoy the region’s bounty.”
A Renewed Focus on Safe Drinking Water
The quality of our drinking water is receiving renewed scrutiny due to the crises faced by residents of Flint, Michigan, and communities within New York State (including Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and Newburgh). Leading up to a recent October 31st testing deadline, dozens of school districts reported lead contamination in their drinking water.
Additionally, communities statewide from Troy to Nassau and Erie counties continue to suffer from water infrastructure failures that damage homes, compromise public health, and negatively impact businesses and commerce.
Investing in water infrastructure alone cannot fix all of New York’s water quality concerns; however, taking action on this area is a key step to addressing various water quality issues statewide.
A Growing Crisis
According to the latest federal data, New York State has the greatest documented need for investment in drinking and wastewater infrastructure nationwide, with more than $53 billion needed over the next 20 years.
The Environmental Facility Corporation (EFC), which administers funds available for communities to undertake drinking and wastewater infrastructure projects, has stated in the 2017 Intended Use Plan (IUP) that demand for financial assistance outweighs availability of funds. In 2017, EFC is expected to meet just 14-percent of the identified demand statewide.
Highlighting this concern is a report by the Construction Advancement Institute and the Construction Industry Council, which states that less than 30 percent of water infrastructure projects in the Hudson Valley will get funded.
Building on Success
Investments in clean water infrastructure are a boon for public health, the environment, and the economy. The United States Conference of Mayors has found that the value of each public dollar invested in water infrastructure more than doubles in economic output in other industries. They also noted that each local job created in the drinking and wastewater industry creates nearly four jobs in the national economy.
In 2015, Governor Cuomo and lawmakers created the WIIA program, with an initial $200 million investment over three years. In the SFY2016-17 Budget, those investments grew by another $200 million over the same time frame. To date, approximately 150 communities have accessed these funds; however, needs have been identified in all 62 counties. Just $175 million remains available within the program.