The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) have kicked off their joint Affordable Water, Resilient Communities campaign. The campaign will increase awareness among federal lawmakers, key stakeholders, and the public around the vital role of public water sector utilities in supporting healthy, resilient communities, the financial challenges local utilities and their customers face after years of increasing local costs and declining federal cost-share, and the critical need for greater federal investment in water infrastructure.
Federal investment in water infrastructure has declined to less than 5 percent, while total costs for capital, operations and maintenance have grown for decades. This decline in federal investment, coupled with the growing cost to provide clean and safe water, have strained households’ ability to pay for water services – with a disproportionate impact on low-income households – as water rates have steadily climbed to meet increasing infrastructure costs, public health demands, and environmental requirements.
- The Affordable Water, Resilient Communities campaign launches with three goals:
- Ensure efficient, effective implementation of federal water utility bill relief and establish a permanent federal low-income water customer assistance program.
- Support increased federal investment in water infrastructure.
Help public water utilities recover from the pandemic and play a vital role in a strong economic recovery with reinvestment in America’s critical infrastructure to ensure a stronger, healthier, resilient future.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the critical services provided by the public clean water Sector,” Adam Krantz, NACWA’s Chief Executive Officer, said in a statement. “For decades, this cornerstone of America’s infrastructure – water – has been marginalized by the federal government while local communities and water customers have increasingly stepped up their investment and expanded their roles in advancing public health and environmental protection. Much-needed infrastructure upgrades and increasing compliance costs have fallen almost entirely on the backs of ratepayers – an untenable and unaffordable solution for millions of Americans.
“Congress has shown it recognizes the burden water customers face by appropriating $638 million for the first ever Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Program (LIWCAP) in December. But Congress must do more. The sector estimates more than an $8 billion shortfall in customer bill arrearages as a result of the pandemic – a steep increase that underscores a major challenge that existed for years.
“It is my hope that by coming together as a unified public water sector, we can persuade Congress to act to make the LIWCAP permanent, provide direct relief to water utilities that have struggled as a result of the pandemic, and restore a strong federal investment partner in water infrastructure to meet legacy and new challenges facing water utilities around the U.S.”
In another statement, Diane VanDe Hei, AMWA’s Chief Executive Officer, highlighted the social justice aspect of ensuring safe drinking water availability.
“Ensuring access to safe drinking water is essential to achieving equity and social justice for all Americans. But today the cost of basic water service poses a challenge to many low-income households, particularly for those in vulnerable communities,” VanDe Hei said. “Aging water infrastructure and expanded regulatory mandates are expected to put additional upward pressure on local water rates in the coming years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only added additional stress to households facing rising water bills.
“For years, the federal government has operated critical programs to help low-income households meet nutritional needs and cover home heating costs. Similar investments should be made to help in-need Americans maintain water and wastewater service. The public health and social justice return on such investments will far outweigh their initial costs, and will be particularly beneficial to vulnerable communities.
“We applaud Congress’ appropriation for a new Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Program (LIWCAP) in December’s COVID-19 relief bill, but that is only a first step. We look forward to working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to authorize and fund LIWCAP as a permanent component of the federal safety net.”