New York needs to invest at least $36 billion in upgrading critical wastewater infrastructure across the state. The problem has been described by the state’s lead environmental agency as “a gathering storm.”

“Sewage and wastewater treatment facilities in New York State are deteriorating. Almost all of New York’s residents rely on these facilities to treat sewage and wastewater from our homes and businesses before they return it to our waterbodies,” says the Department of Environmental Conservation.

“However, one-quarter of the 610 facilities in New York are operating beyond their useful life expectancy and many others are using outmoded, inadequate technology, increasing their likelihood of tainting our waters,” the DEC reports.

Treating wastewater adequately is essential for public health and economic development, maintains the state. Upgrading our water quality infrastructure is “critically needed,” the DEC states plainly on its website.

Yet some of New York’s leading environmental organizations are saying that Governor Cuomo’s proposed 2015 budget does not begin to address the seriousness of the issue. Specifically, they are arguing that the state needs to create an “Infrastructure Bank” to assist local municipalities who have no way of raising the funds necessary to complete large water quality infrastructure projects.

How would an infrastructure bank be seeded? The state’s “windfall bank settlement” is mentioned as a possible source of funding for sewage and wastewater treatment projects.

The environmental groups spoke out in an op-ed published yesterday in The op-ed was written by Willie Janeway of the Adirondack Council, Peter Iwanowicz of Environmental Advocates of New York, Marcia Bystryn of the New York League of Conservation Voters, Patricia Cerro-Reehil of the New York Water Environment Association and Paul Gallay of Riverkeeper.

We re-publish key sections below:


“In recent statements, Gov. Andrew Cuomo touted the high value of a “clean water supply that is vital to the livelihood of all New Yorkers” and said “New York does more than any other state to finance local wastewater infrastructure projects that protect the environment and support jobs.” It is true that the New York state Environmental Facilities Corp. has played a pivotal role in providing low-cost financing for wastewater projects. Yet with the financial struggles of many municipalities — even with low-cost loan programs in place, an infrastructure bank to support clean water for all is needed in this year’s state budget.

We applauded when the governor said he would propose using bank settlement funds to help seed an infrastructure bank with the ability to make “gap-closing grants.” …………

However, New York state has not yet established a new dedicated wastewater infrastructure bank. The only funding stream proposed by Gov. Cuomo, in his executive budget is an Upstate regional competition, through which dollars would be awarded to three out of seven eligible regions. Long Island, New York City and Buffalo are not eligible and there’s no assurance that clean water infrastructure would be funded as part of any region’s plan……

The deterioration of roads and bridges is clear to see. But the deterioration is more severe below ground, as those who have dealt with sewage backing up in basements and spilling into creeks know all too well. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has documented the need for investment in wastewater statewide is at least $36 billion…………………

Ask local leaders about their challenges, and investing in wastewater infrastructure is at or near the top of the list. These are real local costs that most communities cannot bear — especially with a 2 percent tax cap that inhibits long-term investment…..

It has been 50 years since New York voters approved a $1 billion Pure Waters Bond Act, at a time when the statewide need for sewer infrastructure was estimated at $1.7 billion. The investment paid dividends in clean water and proud communities. We’re overdue for another bold investment or at least a modest but real investment.”