Putting Green to Work: Economic Recovery Investments for Clean and Reliable Water

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Only a few days after taking office, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), the largest government public works package since the New Deal. ARRA included a much-needed $6 billion for clean water and drinking water infrastructure.

Like much of the nation’s infrastructure, our water systems are crumbling. After several decades of inadequate investment and unmanaged sprawl, America’s water and wastewater systems now receive the lowest grade, a D-, of all infrastructure rated by the American Society of Civil Engineers. EPA already estimates capital investment needs for clean water and drinking water infrastructure at more than $600 billion over 20 years. Forecasts for greater extremes due to climate change will make the problem worse, as more frequent and intense storms will increase flooding and produce corresponding sewer overflows and stormwater pollution. And more frequent and intense droughts will cause water shortages and higher concentrations of water pollution.

At the same time, we are in dire need of a new approach to investing in America’s clean water and drinking water infrastructure. We are at a crossroads today in how we manage our water systems. Traditional water infrastructure will continue to play a role, but much of it is static, solves only a single problem, and requires a huge expense to build and maintain. We must move from old 19th century infrastructure to a wiser combination of green and traditional infrastructure that will meet the needs of the 21st century.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) took a groundbreaking step in the right direction, dedicating twenty percent ($1.2 billion) of water infrastructure funding to programs for green infrastructure, water and energy efficiency and environmental innovation (collectively called the Green Project Reserve). This effort represented the first, decisive step in a much needed shift away from solely “gray,” inflexible water infrastructure towards innovative approaches that will bring our water management into the 21st century.

More communities are beginning to understand that economic vitality and resilience to climate change rest on adaptation strategies that provide multiple benefits for every public dollar invested. By dedicating 20 percent of water infrastructure funding for the Green Project Reserve, ARRA provided states with the resources to repair and rebuild their water and sewer systems to protect communities for a future marked by more frequent and more intense droughts and floods.

Just as we continue to reap the benefits of the New Deal more than sixty years later, the Green Project Reserve will result in lasting changes toward environmental sustainability for years to come. This report examines the implementation of this Green Project Reserve.