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Report Highlights Chronic Underinvestment in America’s Water Infrastructure

Stephanie Salmon

According to a new report released by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and Value of Water Campaign on August 26, the U.S. is underinvesting in its drinking water and wastewater systems—putting American households and the economy at risk.  

The report, “The Economic Benefits of Investing in Water Infrastructure: How a Failure to Act Would Affect the U.S. Economy Recovery,” finds that as water infrastructure deteriorates and service disruptions increase, annual costs to American households due to water and wastewater failures will be seven times higher in 20 years than they are today.

The report examines how America’s water infrastructure is aging, with many drinking water systems and wastewater treatment facilities nearing the end of their respective design lives (75-100 years), causing contamination and economic disruptions to communities. Between 2012 and 2018, the rate of water main breaks in the nation rose by 27% to roughly 300,000 breaks per year—equivalent to a break more than every two minutes. In addition, the U.S. lost an estimated $21.7 million of treated water in 2019 due to leaks, which is projected to reach $48 million by 2039 with current investment trends. 

Investment in these systems, the report highlights, has not kept pace with the need. In 2019, the total capital spending on water infrastructure at the local, state, and federal levels was approximately $48 billion, while investment needs totaled $129 billion, creating an $81 billion gap.

The new study points out that through coordinated investment at the federal, state and local levels and if investment is increased to address these shortfalls now, the U.S. GDP would grow by $4.5 trillion in 20 years. To read the full report, go to https://bit.ly/31xEMAv.  Investing in the nation’s water infrastructure has been a top priority for AFS for the past five years.    

House Approves Bipartisan Water Resources Bill

The House of Representatives unanimously passed the AFS-backed Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020, H.R. 7575, at the end of July. The water resources bill would authorize an estimated $8.6 billion in federal funds to help finance 34 new Army Corps of Engineers construction projects. Among other provisions in the WRDA bill, language to “unlock” the surplus in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and allow about $10 billion in already collected Harbor Maintenance Taxes to be used for port improvements and harbor dredging around the U.S. The measure also includes a new Buy America requirement for domestically sourced aluminum on these Corps projects.

In May, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved its version of the water resources legislation, the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 (AWIA). The Senate committee’s version would authorize $5.1 billion for 26 Corps projects. The full Senate has yet to consider AWIA. The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee leaders have signaled confidence that an agreement could be reached between the House and Senate’s bills before the end of the session. AFS will continue to press for passage of this important water resources legislation.    

FEMA Extends and Revises PPE Export Restrictions 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) published a Temporary Final Rule in August that invokes the Defense Production Act (DPA) to allocate certain Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for domestic use and prohibit exportation of that PPE from the U.S. without FEMA approval.  

The revised and extended rule will be effective from August 10 through December 31 and authorizes Customs and Border Protection to detain outbound shipments of PPE until FEMA determines whether to return the shipment for domestic use, issue a DPA-covered order against the PPE, or allow the export of all or part of the order in the interest of national defense. Importantly, the revised rule amends the definition of covered PPE to account for domestic supply and demand changes since April and now includes only:

  • Surgical (not industrial) N95 Filtering Facepiece Respirators (FFRs) (narrowed in scope compared to the original rule that included all N95 FFRs)
  • PPE Surgical Masks (same as the original rule)
  • Level 3 and 4 Surgical Gowns and Surgical Isolation Gowns (new addition)
  • PPE Gloves or Surgical Gloves (same as original rule)

The rule removes other FFRs; elastomeric, air-purifying respirators; and related FFR filters/cartridges from the covered material list. It continues the exemptions in the original rule and those supplemental exemptions published after the initial rule which permit the export of covered material under limited circumstances.