Just how are we going to pay for it? Imagining new ways to finance our water infrastructure.

Hudson River, NY by Sleep HollowIn previous blog posts we’ve pointed out how the water services we rely upon are widely underfunded and threatened by age, inefficiencies, and ever-increasing demands. As the economic downturn continues to strain municipal and water utility budgets, developing new approaches to financing our critical infrastructure and services is becoming more and more important. 

Even Congress has finally realized our growing need and is considering bills such as the Water Infrastructure and Financing Innovation Act, which would bring significant reforms to the way the federal government invests in local water systems. 

However, federal support cannot meet our overwhelming needs for infrastructure repairs and modernization alone. It is critical we find new, innovative mechanisms to finance our water infrastructure.

Earlier this winter, we were pleased to collaborate with the Johnson Foundation and Ceres on a report that highlighted the need for sustainable financing for our water systems [PDF], and the importance of developing water infrastructure that will be more resilient to changing conditions, community needs, and budgets.  This report offered a “big picture” view on financing and infrastructure, and illustrated the need for more detailed analysis and direction. 

In a follow-on effort, Ceres and American Rivers have again partnered to produce “Restoring the Flows,” [PDF] where we looked to move beyond “mere words,” and towards a practical development and implementation of these much needed reforms. We conducted over thirty interviews with utility leaders, water advocates, and academic and economic researchers who are all actively engaged in bringing to life new visions for our shared water systems.

Our goal was not to produce an exhaustive representation of all opportunities available for enhanced collaboration around water stewardship, but instead chart a path toward more secure and resilient water systems for all users who rely on plentiful and clean water. This “roadmap” outlines several key areas where near- and medium-term investments and leadership could begin the transformation of our water infrastructure and the financing mechanisms that support it.

With the generous support of the Russell Family Foundation, American Rivers and Ceres look forward to continuing this conversation, and shaping a future for our communities and the waters that help them thrive.