THE ASSOCIATION OF CALIFORNIA WATER AGENCIES
SUBMITTED TO THE
SENATE ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE
ON S. 1961
THE WATER INVESTMENT ACT OF 2002
FEBRUARY 26, 2002
The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) is pleased to submit comments for the record to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on S. 1961, which seeks to address water infrastructure funding needs. ACWA is the largest and oldest collection of public water agencies in the country, and the association’s members are responsible for 90% of the water delivered in California for municipal, agricultural and industrial use.
Unless Congress acts now to invest in and repair our nation’s water infrastructure, ACWA believes that a looming water crisis in California and the west is inevitable. In general, ACWA supports the increase in funding levels within S. 1961, recommends some changes to the bill, and believes the bill can work in concert with other innovative resource approaches like the CALFED Bay-Delta Program.
Western states in general, and particularly California, face a dizzying array of resource demands that compete for finite supplies of water. Heavily urbanized areas depend on reliable supplies of high quality water to meet drinking water needs. Burgeoning high tech industries expect even higher quality water to develop the products that have transformed California’s and the nation’s economy. Agricultural communities today must vigorously safeguard water supplies, growing more food with less water, on ever-smaller tracts of usable land. And new environmental mandates have reduced flexibility of operations within California’s water system.
At the same time, the administration of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act has imposed increasingly expensive requirements on water suppliers. New treatment technologies for arsenic, MTBE, cryptosporidium, disinfection biproducts and other agents have been developed and are working to meet these mandates. Local agencies have helped pioneer many of these innovations, and while the benefits to public health have been great, they have not come without a cost.
The “infrastructure funding gap” cited by EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman, the Water Infrastructure Network (WIN) and others this year is very real. Estimates vary, but according to the General Accounting Office the figure is between $300 billion and $1 trillion over the next 20 years  – a widening shortfall between federal funds appropriated and those needed to keep up with needs in cities, counties and rural communities. This funding gap becomes especially glaring in the face of new federal water quality standards, environmental mandates and population shifts, factors which can wring the last ounce of flexibility from water networks, and make it difficult for states to contemplate necessary regional environmental water resource plans.
California’s CALFED Bay-Delta Program is one example of innovative environmental and water resource planning whose future will be acutely impacted by water infrastructure investment. CALFED is the largest ecosystem restoration project in California’s history, tasked with the commensurate goals of improving water quality and water supply reliability for farms and 20 million urban residents. Legislation like S. 1961 will complement CALFED by repairing the water networks in cities that rely on water from the Bay Delta ecosystem. The bill will enable urban water conservation, drinking water quality improvements, pipeline and canal upgrades, and the expansion of water recycling, all of which will relieve pressure on the fragile Bay-Delta and allow its multi-faceted restoration work to proceed.
The two major arteries for delivered water in California, the federal Central Valley Project (CVP) and the State Water Project (SWP) are both more than 40 years old. Each is managed by agencies participating in CALFED. Neither one, however, has been completed to the extent its planners envisioned, and while both are feats of engineering, they were built when the state’s population was less than one third of where it stands today, with a vastly different economy, and virtually no federal environmental laws to enforce.
The investment of S. 1961, as well as the restoration promised by CALFED, are both direly needed for California and its western neighbors to meet water demand into the 21st Century. Just as the restoration of the Everglades, the Chesapeake and the Great Lakes have proceeded in concert with ongoing federal water management initiatives, CALFED requires that infrastructure funding move forward with the Program’s long-term resource goals.
As demonstrated by the debate surrounding 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act, a delicate balance must be struck between the benefits of water investment and the costs of new regulations that often accompany it. S. 1961 dedicates substantial resources to water systems, but some sections of the bill impose broad new requirements, which may be unnecessary. The bill needs to focus on funding for repair and investment in water infrastructure.
Section 103(e)(3) would mandate a new coordination process between local land use, transportation, and watershed plans in order for states to take advantage of water pollution revolving loan funds. Under ACWA-supported state legislation enacted in 1995 and revised in 2001, California already makes approval for new developments contingent upon adequate water supplies, giving hydrologic forecasts a loud voice in land use decisions. Section 103(g) of the bill creates new expectations of “Technical, managerial, and financial capacity for optimal performance,” but states and local districts in California already employ best management practices to seek every possible efficiency from their systems.
ACWA recommends that the specific language of S. 1961 be changed in the committee process to achieve both operational and public policy improvements. One example is the section singling out “Disadvantaged Communities” for extended loan terms. While many of ACWA’s members would undoubtedly fall into this category, the bill now provides a limited loan allotment for each district. While attempts to help disadvantaged entities are always valued, it is unclear how the presence of several separate ‘disadvantaged communities’ inside many of California’s large, demographically mixed water districts could meet this test without competing with one another for a single districts’ loan allotment. The disadvantaged community designation could also distort the use of funds meant for district operation and maintenance under language on page 9 of the introduced version.
California’s water districts have met with considerable success in the development of regional partnerships. These arrangements consist of two or more drinking water providers pooling resources together so that expertise and equipment can be shared, or so that strengths in one agency can be used to offset limitations in another. Across the country, water districts have begun to stratify into two groups of water systems, the small (<10,000) and the large (>100,000). Because regional partnerships are used by many of the small districts that S 1961 seeks to assist, ACWA believes the bill should enable small districts to more easily access the financial, technical, and managerial resources available through regional partnerships. Regional partnerships could be made eligible to apply for grants and loans, and could take the form of water supply agreements, operating agreements, construction contracts, joint powers authorities or other approved arrangements.
Every day, water managers in California and the west are confronted with a unique set of resource constraints not found in other parts of the country. Naturally arid climates where water is scarce, along with a much greater incidence of endangered species (California leads the nation with over 260 designations), bring constant uncertainty to water deliveries. For that reason, every effort must be made to reclaim and reuse all available water supplies. ACWA supports the funding for these programs found in S. 1961 as progressive and needed investment for chronically water-short communities of the western United States.
Finally, it is unclear how language in Section 403 of the bill would influence federal water management. This section calls for “an assessment of the state of water resources in the United States,” and requires that this report “be used by federal agencies as a guide in making decisions on the allocation of water research funding.” While more information is always better than less when making water management decisions, it may be useful to clarify whether the assessment will create priority lists or influence the disbursement of federal funding.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments to the committee. ACWA stands ready to provide any information or assistance in the furtherance of water infrastructure investment and the enactment of improvements to S 1961.
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 ‘WATER INFRASTRUCTURE: Information on Federal and State Financial Assistance,’ GAO November 2001 / GAO-02-134