Graphic courtesy California Steel Industries Inc.

Yesterday President Obama signed the long-awaited Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA). The successor to 2007’s Water Resources Development Act provides $12.3 billion over 10 years.

Like MAP-21, the federal surface transportation funding package, the law’s goals are to streamline project delivery, make it easier for the public to find out who’s building what and why, and make grant and loan recipients prove they’re spending federally dispersed taxpayer dollars wisely.

Also like MAP-21, not everyone’s convinced the legislation’s going to accomplish all that. It contains some of the same language – Buy America (as opposed to Buy American), for example – that’s bedeviling road and bridge projects (Click here to read what state and local public works departments think of 2012’s “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act.”)

But for the most part, the water and wastewater sectors herald the legislation. In particular, they’re heralding two new funding provisions – with some caveats.

At long last: a new water financing model

Modeled after the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program for surface transportation (click here for an explanation), WRRDA establishes a Water Infrastructure Finance Innovations Authority (WIFIA). The five-year pilot program is available to both U.S. Army Corps of Engineer (USACE) and municipal drinking and wastewater projects.

FUNDING

  • FY 2015 -- $20 million
  • FY 2016 -- $25 million
  • FY 2017 -- $35 million
  • FY 2018 -- $45 million
  • FY 2019 -- $50 million

COSTS COVERED

  • Development phase activities
  • Construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation and replacement
  • Real property acquisition or real property interest
  • Certain capitalized interest

ELIGIBLE PROJECTS

  • Flood control
  • Clean water and drinking water
  • Enhancing energy efficiency in operations of public water systems/public treatment works
  • Repair, rehab, or replacement of water, treatment, and wastewater collection facilities
  • Desalination
  • Combination of projects from a state infrastructure financing authority or a combined security pledge
  • Projects must be at least $20 million except in communities of less than 25,000, in which case projects must be expected to cost at least $5 million

So far, so good.

Two drawbacks

However, WIFIA projects may not also use federal tax-exempt financing mechanisms like private activity bonds (PABs) or municipal bonds.

The legislation also amends the Clean Water Act to make projects eligible for EPA state revolving loans – in theory, a good thing. However, Section 5004 requires that “funds made available through Title VI of the Clean Water Act may not be used for a project unless all of the iron and steel products used in the project are produced in the U.S.”

Even so, the legislation “will improve the quality of life in our communities with job-generating projects that provide flood protection and environmental restoration, and improve our waterway infrastructure,” says Edward A. Gottko, president of the American Public Works Association.

Click here for an excellent video that explains why this piece of legislation is important to the average American.