In Troy, New York, just across the Hudson River from our state Capitol, some residents recently went without water for 10 straight days because of a water main break. Other Troy residents were forced to boil their water for several days because of a separate break.
What is happening in Troy is not an isolated problem, say advocates, local elected officials, and even the state’s own environmental protection agency.
Money is badly needed by municipalities for repairs to both wastewater management and drinking water systems. Last fall, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli identified a gap in annual state spending of $800 million for wastewater and over $300 million for drinking water infrastructure.
And these infrastructure upgrades are more critical than ever, given the projected increase in rainfall and extreme weather events across the state due to climate change.
The state has put off addressing the problem for long enough, argue almost two dozen state senators. They are pushing the Governor to include $800 million for new water infrastructure funding in this year’s state budget. Currently, there is no grant money set aside in the proposed budget for municipal water infrastructure projects.
The water superintendent of one upstate city told NYER that they “fully supported” the state senators’ fight for $800 million in infrastructure funds. The official, who asked not to be identified for fear of alienating the Governor, added, “it should probably be a lot more.”
The state has the ability to make an $800 million investment this year because it has received more than $5 billion in bank settlement funds, the senators maintain.
“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue,” Senator Carl Marcellino of Long Island, who is pushing for the $800 million, told Capital New York. “We all drink the same water.”
State Assembly Not on Board
So far, the state Assembly is not joining its colleagues in the Senate to fight for $800 million for water infrastructure.
The Assembly will be requesting $250 million, Elizabeth Nostrand, legislative director for Assemblymember Steve Englebright, told NYER. Englebright, a Democrat from Long Island, chairs the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee.
Nostrand said that Assemblymember Englebright and his colleagues agreed with the senators that addressing the state’s infrastructure needs was a “top priority.” But she said that numerous competing proposals had been put forward for the use of the bank settlement funds.
The Assembly was advocating for a number, Nostrand said, which was within “the realm of possibility.” Nostrand added that the Assembly’s proposal for $250 million in water infrastructure funding was far better than the Governor’s, “which was zero.”
$12.7 Billion Requested by Local Governments
An analysis released last week by a coalition of environmental and clean water organizations makes the case that communities across New York State have an “immediate documented need” for $12.7 billion in wastewater infrastructure projects alone. This need now impacts every single county, they point out.
Roughly two-thirds -over 500- of the projects covered by this $12.7 billion are essentially “shovel ready,” said Dan Shapley, the Water Quality Program Manager at Riverkeeper.
Riverkeeper and three other organizations, Environmental Advocates, the New York League of Conservation Voters, and the Adirondack Council, prepared the analysis. The groups found that of the $12.7 billion in aid requested by local governments, the state Environmental Facilities Corporation plans to provide $757 million, just under 6 percent.
That $757 million will come primarily in the form of no- and low-interest loans via the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, which is administered by the EFC.
Who Is Supposed to Pay for Water Infrastructure?
The State’s lead environmental agency is in agreement that New York is facing a water infrastructure “crisis,” both in terms of wastewater and drinking water.
“One-quarter of the 610 [sewage and wastewater treatment] facilities in New York are operating beyond their useful life expectancy,” notes the state Department of Environmental Conservation, “and many others are using outmoded, inadequate technology, increasing their likelihood of tainting our waters.”
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, New York has reported $27 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs over the next 20 years; along with $29.7 billion in costs related to upgrading wastewater treatment infrastructure.
Who pays for such pressing – and fundamental – projects? Local, state and federal governments are all supposed to share the burden.
A key problem is the fact that individual municipalities, especially smaller ones, do not necessarily have the cash on hand, or the ability to borrow large sums from the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund. One contributing factor is the state’s two percent cap on local property taxes (instituted by the Governor), which essentially ties the hands of local governments.
Current levels of local investment in water infrastructure projects are a fraction of where they need to be, says a report released in September by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. For instance, municipalities are spending one-fifth to one-sixth of what the Department of Health believes is necessary to adequately upgrade drinking water systems across the state.
Missing An Opportunity?
Is the Governor missing a golden opportunity by not putting bank settlement dollars into upgrading sewage treatment plants, storm drain systems and drinking water mains?
Investing in the state’s water infrastructure is not just a liveability issue; it’s also an economic development issue, say advocates. Functional infrastructure is required for growth.
And investing in the state’s wastewater and drinking water systems will create jobs, as many as 30,000, they add. The economic activity generated by the level of construction needed will help to increase local and state tax revenues, they argue. This, in turn, will help to pay for the two decades of infrastructure improvement projects that lie ahead.
What Are Your County’s Water Infrastructure Needs?
Clean water advocates have tabulated the applications -just for wastewater infrastructure projects- to the EFC’s Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund. Over 900 projects are pending.
According to this analysis, Brooklyn (Kings County) has the greatest documented need, with pending applications for 63 projects, at a whopping total cost of over $3 billion.
What’s an example of what is being requested for Brooklyn? The City of New York has requested funds for a “sewage treatment plant upgrade at Coney Island to improve water quality to the Rockaway Inlet.” The Rockaway Inlet lies between Brooklyn and the Rockaways.
Estimated cost for this one project? $20,533,250.
Click here to read a description of the projects for which your county has requested support. Project descriptions start on page 41. The descriptions provide a window on just some of the water-related problems that local governments are trying to solve.
New York City’s projects are identified by the letters NYCMWFA [Municipal Water Finance Authority]. Interestingly, a number of New York City’s projects are related to “storm” and “flood mitigation.”
The totals, by county, are as follows:
|County||Total $||# of Projects|
|Average by County:||$207,573,497||14.8|
Photo credit: Anjo Construction via Anjo Construction