New York’s clean water infrastructure is in dire shape, and that puts lives in danger and hurts families and efforts to revitalize our communities.
Our pipes aren’t just old – they are falling apart after decades of neglect. Almost daily we hear reports of a sewer overflow or water main break that leaves people without safe drinking water and compromises public health. As we head into the start of the 2016-17 state fiscal year budget negotiations, the Governor and state Legislature must build upon their initial investment within the current budget and commit to funding our clean water needs.
As we noted alongside our partners at Riverkeeper in public comments to the Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) – the entity which controls these funds and disburses them to communities need – needs for this year exceed $6 billion while available funds (largely from federal investment or interest earned from prior loans repaid by municipalities) is just $473 million. That is a 93 percent funding gap.
The people Environmental Advocates speaks to about this issue are often surprised to learn the problems are so pervasive. It happened because our drinking water and sewer infrastructure lies underground, so we take it for granted until something goes wrong. And these projects don’t lend themselves to major media announcements for state officials in the same way building a bridge or airport does.
Earlier this year, Environmental Advocates partnered with many great colleague organizations in a campaign to #FixOurPipes. With a more than $5 billion windfall from bank settlements in state coffers, the opportunity was ripe to put that money to use upgrading our infrastructure. The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) notes that public wastewater infrastructure needs will exceed $36 billion over the next 20 years, and the Office of the Comptroller says there is an $800 million investment shortfall happening annually.
Though they did not use those bank settlement dollars, Governor Cuomo and legislators agreed to a new $200 million clean water grant program over three years in the current budget; $50 million this fiscal year and $75 million each of the next two. It was a huge victory, and a credit to the work of advocates, community leaders, and key legislators.
But it’s only a start. The state still fell short another $750 million this year, and a total of $2.2 billion between now and April, 2018, when this initial investment times out.
The state has another $1.5 billion in its coffers from bank settlement funds which they can invest in the very grant program that the Governor and legislators created. They should. The only thing holding them back is political will.
It’s time to get serious. State budget negotiations typically begin in earnest each November. By January, the Executive has prepared their proposal, and in February the Legislature begins hearings and each house drafts its own plans. A final deal is struck in time to meet the April 1 start of the Fiscal Year.
In the coming months, Environmental Advocates and our partners will relaunch an even more focused and aggressive #FixOurPipes campaign; it will include highlighting for legislators the rampant problems within each of their districts, and telling the stories of kids, families, and businesses who are continually put in harms way as they try to live and work in the 21st Century on 19th Century infrastructure.