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Changes to State’s Water Infrastructure Assistance Would Better Assist Localities

A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
When the faucet is turned on, we take it for granted that clean, safe water will come out of the spigot.

Unfortunately, as has been reported both nationally and in New York State, this is not always the case.

In recent years, many problems have arisen due to aging water and sewer systems.

In many cases, municipalities are dealing with systems that are more than 100 years old.

Maintaining this infrastructure is not cheap.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency estimates that New York will need to spend $22 billion over the next 20 years to simply maintain our current system.

Not to be outdone, the state comptroller recently issued a report estimating that $40 billion will be needed over the next 20 years to maintain and improve our water and sewer systems.

Currently, most revenues used to maintain and upgrade our sewer and water systems comes from user fees and charges.

However, because much of the water infrastructure is underground, its upkeep doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

In addition, repairs and upgrades are expensive and local officials, rightfully so, want to keep water bills low.

As a result, often the fees charged do not equal what is needed to properly maintain the system.

To assist municipalities with the cost of maintaining and upgrading their systems, there are two programs in the state for municipalities to take advantage of.

One is the very successful Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which is primarily funded with federal money, and which can provide market rate financing, reduced interest rate loans and limited grants for eligible water system projects.

The other is the more recently established Water Infrastructure Improvement Act which provides qualifying municipalities up with up to 60% funding for their water and sewer upgrade projects with a $5 million cap per project.

While both these programs are critical, their focus is primarily on upgrading water and sewer systems and money granted through these systems is awarded on a project by project basis.

What the programs don’t do is provide regular assistance to municipalities to help maintain their systems.

While upgrading and expanding our water and sewer infrastructure is important, proper maintenance is as important and as mentioned above can often be put off due to its cost and the out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality that surrounds this type of infrastructure.

To help remedy this problem, I support legislation that has been introduced in the legislature that would implement a Safe Water Infrastructure Action Program.

This program, also known as SWAP, would mimic the successful program the state already has to assist municipalities with maintenance of roads and bridges known as the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program or CHIPS.

SWAP, like CHIPs, would provide annual formula-based aid to all municipalities and moneys provided would be used for maintenance of their water and sewer systems.

Providing regular state assistance for maintenance of water and sewer systems would assist in ensuring that regular maintenance is done on the systems and thereby hopefully avoiding much larger and more expensive repairs and replacement of systems that are required when systems are poorly maintained.

This, in turn, could save users from having to pay the huge cost associated with repairing and replacing outdated, poorly maintained systems.

As Ben Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

While I was disappointed SWAP wasn’t included in this year’s state budget, I will continue to push for the implementation of SWAP and, once successful, I will advocate that funding for it be included in future budgets.

If you have comments regarding these or other state issues, please contact me.

My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by email at [email protected], or by calling (315) 598-5185.

You also can find me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.