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.

Jim Berard, a spokesman for Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), a major player on infrastructure issues, says that any stimulus bill that Obama signs will be considerably larger dollar wise than H.R. 7110, since the recession has worsened substantially since last September. The U.S. Conference of Mayors wants a doubling of the water infrastructure funding that was in the Job Creation bill. It has published a list of 2,536 sewer and drinking water projects across the country that are ready to go. They total $15.6 billion and would create 133,000 jobs.

Trust Fund gains steam

The early 2009 stimulus package will not include, however, authorization of a new Water Trust Fund, which many view as the long term solution for funding the huge sewer and drinking water backlogs at the local level. A report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) expected to hit Congress in mid January will examine the possibilities for funding a new Water Trust Fund at a level of $10 billion a year. The report was requested by Oberstar and the chairwoman of the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas). But Berard explains that if a trust fund is to be authorized, it would be done in the context of legislation reauthorizing the CWSRF. A bill doing that passed the House last year – minus a Trust Fund amendment – but fell short in the Senate.

Creation of a trust fund may have a slightly better chance in the 2009 with Democrats in control of the White House and firmer control of Congress because the idea is backed by environmentalists, a key Democratic constituency. For example, the Waterkeeper Alliance, a group founded by Robert Kennedy Jr., published a report called A Blueprint for Clean Water, completed after Obama won the presidency, which calls for creation of a Clean Water Trust Fund.