Increased Sewer/Water Funding Headlines Many Changes In Washington

Economic Stimulus, Trust Fund, Environment & Unions Highlight Many New Directions of Obama Administration
By Stephen Barlas, Washington Editor | February 2009 Vol. 64 No.2
The U.S. Capitol Building.

UPDATE: This article was written before President Obama signed the stimulus bill into law 2/17/2009. The AP reports $7.2 billion of the bill's money will go to the EPA, primarily to help "repair and improve drinking water systems and fund projects that protect bays, rivers and other waterways used as sources of drinking water."("How Government Stimulus Will Affect You," 2/17/2009) Logistics Management reports an additional $4.6 billion "for water infrastructure projects undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers."--Ed.

Sewer and drinking water funding has been a back burner issue in Washington for the past decade, as local infrastructure needs have come to a boil. But the economic stimulus package Congress will pass very early in 2009--and which President Barack Obama will sign--will include substantial funds for water infrastructure, freeing up at least a portion of the logjam of long delayed projects.

The only question now is whether stimulus funds will be a one time shot in the arm or the start of a much more free flowing, permanent federal injection dedicated to answering what is estimated to be a $300 billion to $500 billion funding gap over the next 20 years in local sewer and drinking water funding needs.

In addition to questions about the size and permanence of water infrastructure funding, the Obama administration and a more Democratic-dominated Congress will undoubtedly reverse what was a laissez-faire Bush administration attitude toward environmental issues, replacing it with a much more activist mindset (with both positive and negative implications), and lend a much more sympathetic ear to labor unions as well.

But the biggest issue for the underground construction industry will undoubtedly be the size of the jolt from the 2009 stimulus package. The House passed a stimulus bill at the end of September (but failed to clear the Senate), before the recession worsened, which included $6.5 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and $1 billion for Drinking Water SRF as part of its Job Creation and Unemployment Relief Act (H.R. 7110). That money would have been over and above the regular 2009 appropriations for the two SRFs, which will likely be about $800 million each.