Approved by the Energy, Environment, and Water Policy Committee on January 20, 2022
Approved by the Public Policy and Practice Committee on May 18, 2022
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 22, 2022
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recognizes the true costs of providing reliable safe drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater treatment and supports the following approaches to provide effective federal, state, and local investments in water infrastructure.
- Regular review and assessment of user fees in order to determine if they are adequate to cover all life cycle costs.
- Conducting targeted studies to identify economically disadvantaged communities that do not have the ability to pay rising utility burdens and develop strategies to address that financial burden.
- Continued authorization of the State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF) programs under the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act.
- Maintaining full appropriations to the levels authorized by law for the Water Infrastructure Finance Innovations Authority (WIFIA).
- Establishing additional financial tools and mechanisms to address the national shortfall in funding of water infrastructure systems.
ASCE’s 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure graded drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater infrastructure as C-, D, and D+, respectively. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified that the United States (U.S.) needs over $743 billion for water, wastewater, and stormwater system enhancement and restoration. Without significant investment, the nation risks losing the environmental, public health, and economic gains made over the last 40 years. Despite the growing need for drinking water infrastructure, the federal government’s share of capital spending has fallen. For example, the total federal capital spending on water infrastructure fell to 9 percent of total capital spending in 2017 in water from 63 percent in 1977. The passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a onetime down payment toward increasing water infrastructure funding.
History clearly shows that effective water infrastructure financing is best addressed by a strong partnership between local utilities and the federal government. The inability of some communities to pay on their own and the inter-jurisdictional and geographic dispersion of benefits of such investments have created public health risk as wastewater treatment plants across the country have reached over 80 percent of their capacity and new standards exceed the treatment abilities of existing drinking water and waste facilities.
In the U.S., initial development of and investment in municipal drinking water and wastewater treatment was provided locally. By the 1960s, much of the condition of America's water infrastructure had degraded and needed repair and replacement. In the 1970s, the federal government established funding programs that recognized the value of water infrastructure investments to the American economy and quality of life.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the federal government passed significant comprehensive legislation mandating stringent water quality and safe drinking water requirements, resulting in increased local investment. In the 1990s, the trend continued with renewed legislative attention to stormwater pollution and additional drinking water standards. The higher water quality and drinking water standards require large capital and operational costs for increases in treatment process volume and complex equipment. Replacing the nation's aging and obsolete water infrastructure requires significant investment, including water user rates and fees that more accurately reflect the cost to maintain and operate the systems while meeting more stringent standards.
To address growing demand for improved water infrastructure across the nation, Congress created the SRF programs under which monies provided to the states by the federal government are used by local governments for the construction of wastewater and drinking water facilities and are repaid to states to create a low interest "revolving" source of assistance for other communities. Funding authorization for the SRF programs should continue to help support local communities. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act assisted in this initiative by allocating $55 billion to drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater with a majority of the funding going to the existing SRF programs.
America's drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater systems are aging or failing and must be upgraded or expanded to meet existing federal and state environmental requirements, additional capacity needs, and increasing sources of pollution. These requirements have created a crisis that is beyond the means of many local communities to solve alone and for which federal assistance is clearly justified. Civil engineers play a central role in designing these systems that meet the growing demands and increased regulatory requirements in a cost-effective and reliable manner.
ASCE Policy Statement 480
First Approved in 2000