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Merkley infrastructure finance bill advances

Published On: Mar 20 2013 07:50:15 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 20 2013 07:50:27 PM CDT

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said Wednesday the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has passed his Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act  (WIFIA).

The WIFIA program was included as an element of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which the committee passed on a bipartisan vote.

WIFIA would help local communities upgrade water and sewer systems with low-cost financing.  WIFIA, modeled after a successful transportation program, would save money for water and sewer ratepayers – homeowners and businesses – and put construction workers back on the job as repairs and new projects are accelerated. 

“We need to put a priority on creating jobs now and on making smart investments in infrastructure,” said Merkley. “WIFIA does both. Every community in Oregon needs to be able to provide their citizens with clean drinking water and safe wastewater systems. We need investment now to replace aging systems, meet new standards, and prepare for future economic growth.”

WIFIA is modeled after the successful Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority (TIFIA). WIFIA would create a financial mechanism within the EPA to provide access to lower-cost capital for investments in water infrastructure.   The program offers a proven, modern, and effective way to help increase investment in our infrastructure while reducing cost to local governments and ratepayers.

In virtually every county in Oregon, communities are facing immediate maintenance needs in their water supply and water treatment systems.

In some cases, it is a matter of repairing and replacing aging infrastructure. In others, it is about meeting modern drinking water and waste treatment standards. In yet other cases, it is about expanding capacity to provide for growing communities and industrial capacity.

Yet traditional sources of assistance for local water needs fall short of communities’ needs, leaving them with little choice but to raise rates by extraordinary margins to pay for their water. WIFIA would offer these communities low-cost loans to fill the gap.

The American Society of Civil Engineers on Tuesday released its report card on America’s infrastructure, grading the condition and performance of the nation’s infrastructure. For 2013, America’s drinking water systems received a “D” and wastewater systems also received a “D.”

ASCE also estimated that a lack of investment in water infrastructure now will significantly drive up costs later, with the gap between America’s yearly actual investment and the “needed” investment rising by $90 billion by 2040.

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