Funding Green Infrastructure Projects
There is an immediate need to significantly reinvest in repairing and replacing America’s traditional water and wastewater infrastructure. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the nation must invest $390 billion over a 20 year period to update or replace existing wastewater systems [report PDF] or risk having water quality regress to mid-1970s pollution levels.
American Rivers is working at all levels to ensure that we use our infrastructure funding more wisely by encouraging smart, 21st century approaches that will more effectively protect clean and safe water into the future. Such sustainable approaches use green infrastructure, water efficiency, and reuse to complement and extend the life of traditional infrastructure and often require less money while providing greater environmental and community benefits, including green jobs, reduced flooding, temperatures and energy costs, and community beautification.
Already, green infrastructure is being used successfully by a number of cities around the country, and interest continues to grow as communities recognize the multiple benefits of using cost-effective techniques such as rain gardens, green roofs, and permeable pavement to manage stormwater on-site, reducing the need for expensive, hard infrastructure projects and stretching scarce dollars further. Now we must build on these successes and institutionalize these practices, in part by prioritizing them in our funding mechanisms.
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There are many sources of federal funding for clean water including loans, grants, and potentially new programs such as a clean water trust fund or an infrastructure bank.
American Rivers works on the following:
- Economic Stimulus/American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – The economic stimulus will provide billions of dollars for clean water and drinking water. To find out more about our economic stimulus work, please see: www.americanrivers.org/stimulus.
- Clean Water State Revolving Fund – The main source of federal funding is the federal Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF). In recent years, funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund has declined sharply due to federal budget constraints and the fact that its authorization has expired with funding down from $1.35 billion a year to $689 million in the FY08 budget. Because the Federal Clean Water State Revolving Fund is the major federal source for wastewater infrastructure, we advocate reauthorization of the SRF incorporating the above principles as well as restoration of funding to $2 billion annually (PDF).
Clean Water SRF – How it works: The SRF regularly distributes federal money to the states, who then lend the money at below-market level rates to local governments to repair or upgrade wastewater infrastructure (a parallel program exists for drinking water). In the more than 20 years since its inception in 1987, the Clean Water SRF has provided $68 billion to over 20,000 projects, serving almost 95 million people. The money from the program is flexible – in addition to fixing pipes, SRF funding can be used for water efficiency, green infrastructure and nonpoint source pollution reduction. Read a more detailed explanation of how the SRF works (PDF) or visit the EPA Clean Water SRF page.
- Funding green infrastructure through the Clean Water SRF(PDF)
- Funding water efficiency through the Clean Water SRF (PDF)
Following the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 requirement that 20% of Clean Water SRF funds should be permanently set-aside for green infrastructure projects and 20% of the Drinking Water SRF should be set aside for water efficiency and reuse, we believe that these set-asides should be included in the SRF. Such set-asides are critical in the near-term to move communities towards more sustainable water infrastructure. While the SRF already allows the use of funds for green infrastructure and other innovative practices, currently, only 4% of funds nationwide are being used to reduce nonpoint source pollution.
States have flexibility in how they structure their SRF programs and in deciding which projects can be funded. Some states have innovative programs that fund both traditional and non-structural or green approaches to clean water.
In Pennsylvania, American Rivers advocates for changes to state policy to increase the priority for green infrastructure stormwater projects from state SRF funding. Already, we have made progress and the state funding agency (PENNVEST) has shown a greater commitment to provide funding for sustainable stormwater management approaches. In Tennessee, our work in partnership with the Cumberland River Compact, led to the state allowing funds to be used for watershed protection.
Other states already have more integrated funding programs established – they include:
- Ohio’s restoration sponsor program combining funding for point source and nonpoint source pollution
- California funds natural flood management and open space protection(PDF)
- Other innovative programs
Local funding sources should also be oriented to provide incentives to reduce impervious (hardened) surfaces that increase polluted stormwater runoff and increase the use of green infrastructure. Water should also be priced to reflect its true value to discourage water waste and enhance conservation and efficiency. For more information see: