Leading Environmental Org Releases Water Infrastructure Report

For Immediate Release: February 7, 2019

Leading Environmental Org Releases Water Infrastructure Report

State’s Program an Overall Success, but Lack of Funding Leads to Delays

Albany – Environmental Advocates of New York has released a new report – Untapped Potential: Water Infrastructure Spending in New York – that examines how successful New York's Water Infrastructure Improvement Act (WIIA) has been at addressing the state's growing water infrastructure crisis. Created in 2015 by Governor Cuomo and the Legislature, WIIA provides critical grants, which enable municipalities facing financial hardships to fix corroding water mains, repair sewers, and upgrade wastewater treatment plants, among other projects. Since 2017, WIIA has been funded through the Clean Water Infrastructure Act.

Rob Hayes, clean water associate at Environmental Advocates of New York and author of the report said, “Investments in water infrastructure are paying off – communities are fixing their pipes and protecting their water. But we have to keep this momentum going… without more funding, shovel-ready projects to prevent water contamination won’t get off the ground. Governor Cuomo and the Legislature must work together to secure a new multi-year funding commitment of $1 billion annually in this year’s budget, to ensure municipalities have the resources to rebuild drinking and wastewater infrastructure.”

Excerpt From Untapped Potential:

Our findings reveal a thriving program. Money is moving efficiently out the door as funding increases, and communities are taking notice and responding enthusiastically. We found:

  • A 60% increase each year in the number of project applications submitted by local governments
  • A greater number of projects are receiving grants each year, with almost four times the number of projects awarded in 2017 when compared to 2015
  • Projects in 53 of New York’s 62 counties have received WIIA grant funding

Yet our findings also reveal a vast untapped potential for WIIA. Each year, only 50% of eligible applicants received a grant award from the Environmental Facilities Corporation. Shovel-ready water quality improvement projects continue to wait in the wings, held back by a lack of available funding. It will be crucial to address this untapped potential if additional progress is to be made in keeping New York’s waters clean and healthy.

Molly Clifford, Rochester City Council Member said, “As a Council Member, I see the on-the-ground impacts of New York's failing water infrastructure. Water main breaks, for example, regularly threaten my constituents' health and hamper my city's ability to attract and retain businesses. Local governments are ready to get to work to fix our pipes. What we need is a willing partner in the Governor and State lawmakers. I urge them to build on the success of the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act and provide $1 billion annually in new clean water grant funding, to help move our water infrastructure projects from a concept to a reality.”   

Frank Natalie, Business Agent for Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 7, said, "New Yorkers continue to hear bad news about the safety of their drinking water due to the State’s failing water infrastructure. New York’s crumbling and functionally obsolete sewage and water treatment plants pose a significant threat to the environment and human health. The Governor and lawmakers must ensure adequate funding without delay to modernize the State’s water infrastructure if we hope to avert a water crisis from overwhelming New York’s municipalities and endangering the health of our citizens."

Water Infrastructure Funding in the Executive Budget

During the Governor’s State of the State Budget Address in January, he announced a bold investment of an additional $2.5 billion for clean water projects. However, after examining the Governor’s SFY 2019-2020 executive budget bills, Environmental Advocates discovered that only $500 million in new funding is included. The Governor’s decision to include only part of his promised funding in the SFY 2019-2020 executive budget stands in contrast to the funding model of the Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017, which included a 5-year funding commitment of $2.5 billion in that year’s budget. Multi-year funding commitments provide certainty to communities undertaking planning for new projects, which can often take years to complete.

A copy of the report can be found online here.