Recovering Stronger: A Federal Policy Blueprint - US Water Alliance

The U.S. Water Alliance’s report “Recovering Stronger: A Federal Policy Blueprint” was released in early 2021 and addresses the acute needs of the nation’s municipal water infrastructure resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic as well as long-term underfunding of water resources infrastructure and inequities in access to clean water. The report makes recommendations for how the federal government could make funding for municipal water resources more stable; make water supplies safer; improve access to safe drinking water and wastewater treatment in low-income communities, communities of color, and rural communities; modernize the water sector; improve resilience to climate change; and take a whole-of-government approach to managing the nation’s water resources.

The report states that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly worsened a long-term problem of underinvestment in the United States’ drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. Decreased revenues and increased costs associated with emergency operations during the pandemic has resulted in an estimated funding shortfall of over $30 billion for drinking and wastewater utilities. This shortfall comes on top of a long-term decrease in federal funding for municipal water services. The federal share of funding for municipal water infrastructure fell from 31% in 1977 to 4% in 2017. This has contributed to a deterioration of the infrastructure and reductions in service.

The U.S. Water Alliance  report highlights the needs of low-income communities, communities of color, and rural communities. The report recommends there be a better understanding of the needs of such communities for drinking water and wastewater services and enhancing funding for municipal water services and infrastructure with an emphasis on addressing equity needs. As described below, one of the key recommendations in the report is that the federal government help rectify the lack of access to safe drinking water and wastewater in low-income and communities of color in rural and urban areas.

 

The report includes six overarching recommendations, each with specific strategies for federal action, some of which are noted below:

  • Make Water More Stable: This involves providing funding to make up for water utility revenue losses resulting from the pandemic, and increasing funding for existing federal programs that support municipal water infrastructure and services.
  • Make Water Safer: This includes mapping and replacing lead water service lines, and increasing research on and restricting use and sale of PFAS.
  • Make Water More Affordable and Accessible: This involves expanding and improving federal funding programs for low-income municipal water assistance and improving access to water supplies and treatment in remote areas. It also recommends improving data gathering and assessment of nationwide equity needs.
  • Make Water Smarter: The report recommends supporting modernization of and innovation in municipal utilities, developing a national internet water network, and investing in the water workforce.
  • Make Water More Resilient: This involves investing in resilience in low-income and rural communities and communities of color, investing in pre-disaster preparation, and building water infrastructure for future climate conditions, not past climate.
  • Take a Whole-of-Government Approach to Federal Water Management: This requires aligning federal agencies on water management.

Most of the report is devoted to in-depth discussion of the recommendations and analysis of current problems that justify each recommendation.

The report was written by U.S. Water Alliance staff with input from experts from municipal water systems, municipal water system associations, non-profit organizations, academia and research organizations, environmental organizations and water advocates, and consultants.

Publication Date: January 2021

Related Organizations:

  • U.S. Water Alliance

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  • Policy analysis/recommendations

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