November 8, 2021
Peter Gleick, Amanda Bielawski, and Heather Cooley
On November 5, 2021, the U.S. Congress passed President Biden’s major infrastructure bill, HR 3684, the $1.2 trillion ‘‘Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.” The President is expected to sign the bill into law. The bill is the largest single federal investment in infrastructure in a generation, with the funds to be expended over five years. It aims to rebuild and replace failing, aging, and outdated water, energy, transportation, and communications systems. As the first significant federal investment in climate resilience, it also begins to address the growing consequences of climate change, including intensifying extreme weather events, increasing temperatures, and rising sea levels, on communities throughout the United States.
One key component of the Act is the set of proposals to address the wide range of water-related challenges facing the United States. This Pacific Institute analysis provides an overview of how the Infrastructure Act addresses these challenges. The Pacific Institute will also issue a more detailed Issue Brief.
- The Act dedicates approximately $82.5 billion for a wide range of critical water investments. The largest water-related investments are for improvements in safe drinking water and sanitation.
- The new Infrastructure Act provides a shift away from the 20th century primary focus on building major dams and water diversions toward a more sustainable and resilient approach.
- The new legislation helps correct some of the historical inequities previous infrastructure bills have perpetuated on frontline communities, who are disproportionately impacted by water insecurity.
- The water system investments provided by this new Act are important steps in the right direction. They are not, however, enough—alone—–to prepare water systems to become fully resilient, as they need to be to withstand the stresses and shocks of climate change.
The United States faces several severe and worsening water problems, including:
- old and deteriorating water infrastructure for safe drinking water and wastewater treatment;
- new contaminants that are neither regulated nor controlled;
- failure to provide modern water services to millions of people;
- growing impacts from severe droughts and floods, intensifying as a result of climate change;
- water shortages for farms and rural communities;
- destruction of aquatic ecosystems, fisheries, and wetlands; and
- increasing risks of both climate change and conflicts over water resources around the world.
Continuing to neglect these water problems will further impoverish and sicken this and future generations, while increasing threats to our economy and food supply. Conversely, smart water policies are projected to create hundreds of thousands of jobs, improve public health, address long-standing disproportionate impacts on frontline communities, and speed economic recovery.
In September 2020, the Pacific Institute released a set of water-related recommendations for the new administration. Some of the most important of these recommendations are:
- delivering clean, affordable drinking water to everyone in the United States, with a focus on removing remaining lead water pipes and service lines;
- modernizing and updating existing federal laws that protect drinking water and regulate water pollutants;
- preparing for the increasingly detrimental consequences of extreme weather and climate disasters;
- protecting and restoring natural aquatic ecosystems; and
- improving access to safe water and sanitation in frontline communities, including on Tribal lands.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act
The new Infrastructure Act addresses many of the priorities laid out in the Pacific Institute’s recommendations. It provides the most comprehensive opportunity to help tackle America’s water problems this century. Of the $1.2 trillion authorized to be spent over five years, the Act dedicates approximately $82.5 billion for a wide range of critical water investments. Table 1 provides only a broad overview of the major water-related priorities in the bill. More details will be available in a new Pacific Institute Issue Brief.
The largest water-related investments in the Act are for improvements in safe drinking water and sanitation throughout the country, including around $24 billion in grants over five years directly to the states under the existing Federal Water Pollution Control Act and Safe Drinking Water Acts. An additional $15 billion is provided for projects to replace lead water pipes and service lines, like those responsible for the severe contamination incident in Flint, Michigan, and remaining lead pipes in other cities around the country. Another $9 billion is allocated for addressing a set of new, dangerous, and unregulated pollutants, including perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl and other “emerging contaminants,” long neglected by current federal law.
Federal infrastructure investments have historically supported the construction of major water-related infrastructure projects, such as dams, aqueducts, irrigation systems, and river and port transportation systems. The current bill is no exception. A major difference, however, is that the new investments refocus funds to modern, 21st century priorities that increasingly involve a longer-term water resilience view. For instance, the bill includes investments in some nature-based solutions, including ecosystem restoration, as well as water efficiency, water reuse, flood and drought programs, dam safety, and rural communities. In this way, we see a shift away from the 20th century primary focus on building major dams and water diversions toward a more comprehensive and integrated approach. Read more about the Pacific Institute’s view on water resilience in this blog and Issue Brief.
In the current bill, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the agencies traditionally charged with managing the nation’s federal waters, are authorized to spend approximately $25 billion over five years for a wide range of these new investments. Another $2 billion is set aside for specific regional water protection programs in the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound, Long Island Sound, Gulf of Mexico, South Florida, Lake Champlain, Lake Pontchartrain, Southern New England Estuaries, and the Columbia River Basin.
Water science also receives support in the bill. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture are authorized to spend around $3.9 billion for new hydrologic science and modeling programs to help predict, detect, and prevent extreme events and wildfires that destroy watershed health and water quality, and for a range of ocean programs.
Importantly, the new legislation corrects some of the historical inequities previous infrastructure bills and federal water policies have perpetuated on frontline communities, who are disproportionately affected by water insecurity. For example, Section 50108 of the bill requires the EPA Administrator to submit to Congress a comprehensive report on municipalities, communities, and Tribes that must spend a disproportionate amount of household income on access to public drinking water or wastewater services or that have unsustainable levels of water-related debt. Importantly, the report must also include the Administrator’s recommendations for how best to reduce these inequities and improve affordable access to water services. The EPA must also provide grants to states and Tribes to help schools test for and remediate lead in drinking water (Section 50110), and grants to improve water quality, water pressure, or water services on Native American reservations by prioritizing projects addressing emergency situations occurring due to or resulting in a lack of access to clean drinking water that threatens the health of Tribal populations (Section 50111).
Other Water Infrastructure Investment Highlights
Support is also provided to expand the careful management of stormwater and the sophisticated treatment and reuse of wastewater, two priorities identified by the Pacific Institute for addressing water challenges across the United States:
- Section 50202 (“Wastewater Efficiency Grant Pilot Program”) provides funds for the EPA to establish a wastewater efficiency grant pilot program to carry out projects that create or improve waste-to-energy systems.
- Section 50203 (“Pilot Program for Alternative Water Source Projects”) amends the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to support projects that use water, wastewater, or stormwater or treat wastewater or stormwater for groundwater recharge, potable reuse, or other purposes.
- Section 50204 (“Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grants”) amends the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to support project funding for projects in rural communities or financially distressed communities for the purpose of planning, design, and construction of treatment works for stormwater and other polluted waters.
- A new federal Interagency Working Group will be established to coordinate actions to advance water reuse across the United States (Section 50218).
Many other sections of the Infrastructure Act tackle water issues and will be summarized more fully in the forthcoming Pacific Institute Issue Brief, including projects to:
- reduce the vulnerability of US water systems to cyberattacks, improve water-efficiency programs, and expand job training, diversity, and opportunities in the water and wastewater sectors (Section 50211);
- improve water data sharing (Section 50213);
- expand groundwater recharge and protection (Section 50222); and
- satisfy long-neglected water rights obligations to Native American tribes (Section 70101).
Finally, there are additional investments provided in the Bill for non-water projects that provide water co-benefits. A few examples include:
- Section 40804 (“Ecosystem Restoration”) provides $2.1 billion over five years for a wide range of projects to improve the ecological health of land and waters, including detecting and removing invasive species, restoring streambeds, improving water quality and fish passages.
- Funds allocated to the states for transportation projects also provide some support for flood protection and aquatic ecosystem restoration, and the assessment of transportation and coastal risks from extreme floods, droughts, and sea-level rise (Section 11405).
- A “Healthy Streets Program” includes support for “cool” and “porous” pavement that will mitigate some of the impacts of rising urban temperatures and reduce stormwater risks (Section 11406).
- A National Academy of Sciences study will be prepared on best management practices for stormwater, especially to reduce runoff pollution associated with severe storms (Section 11520).
- Support is provided for improved coordination between the United States and Canada along the Columbia River to ensure continued non-carbon electricity generation from hydroelectric plants, to “increase bilateral transfers of renewable electric generation between the western United States and Canada,” and to rehabilitate and enhance hydropower and irrigation functions at Columbia River dams (Section 40113).
- The Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy will prepare technical assessments of the opportunities for, among other things, “improving efficient use of water in manufacturing processes” (Section 40333).
- The “Natural Resources-Related Infrastructure, Wildfire Management, and Ecosystem Restoration” section (Section 40801 et al.), provides $250 million over five years to decommission and clean up old Forest Service roads to restore passages for fish and other aquatic species, taking account foreseeable changes in weather and hydrology and to support other projects in the National Forests that improve the resilience of roads, trails, and bridges to “extreme weather events, flooding, or other natural disasters.”
As with all federal legislation, the final bill was a compromise, shifting priorities based on political and financial considerations. Many important investments in initial versions of the bill were watered down. For example, earlier drafts included far more money to help remove legacy lead drinking water pipes. While the $15 billion provided in the final bill is a start, far more funds will have to be found to complete that vitally important job.
It’s important to point out that the ultimate success of these investments to address U.S. water problems will depend on how the authorized funds are actually allocated and spent. Success will also depend on the ability of federal agencies, states, local communities, and Tribes to create and mobilize jobs, find additional investments, and implement needed projects.
The water investments provided by this new Act are important steps in the right direction. They are not, however, enough—alone——to prepare U.S. water systems to become fully resilient, as they need to be to withstand the stresses and shocks of climate change. This will require an all-hands-on-deck approach to ensure people and nature have the water they need to thrive and all communities are protected from intensifying water-related disasters.
Selected Water-Related Infrastructure Investments in HR 3684, the ‘‘Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.”
(Includes most, but not all, fund authorizations related to U.S. freshwater resources. Most authorizations are over five years. See bill for specifics and details.)
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE: Natural Resources Conservation Service
Operations and Applications Programs
Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations
Watershed Rehabilitation Program
Emergency Watershed Protection Program
DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Research and Facilities
National Oceans and Coastal Security Fund grants
Restoring marine, estuarine, coastal, or Great Lakes ecosystem habitat, protecting ecological features and coastal communities from flooding or coastal storms
Coastal and inland flood and inundation mapping and forecasting, water modeling activities
Data acquisition activities pursuant to the Water Resources Development Act of 2020
Wildfire prediction, detection, observation, modeling, and forecasting, for fiscal year 2022
Study of soil moisture and snowpack monitoring network in the Upper Missouri River Basin
Marine debris assessment, prevention, mitigation, and removal
Marine debris prevention and removal through the National Sea Grant College Program
Habitat restoration projects thru the Coastal Zone Management Act, including ecosystem conservation
Habitat restoration projects through the National Estuarine Research Reserve System including ecosystem conservation
Improved and enhanced coastal, ocean, and Great Lakes observing systems
Regional Ocean Partnerships (ROPs) to coordinate the management of ocean and coastal resources
Consultations and permitting related to the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and Essential Fish Habitat
Restoring fish passages, removing in-stream barriers and providing technical assistance pursuant to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006
Wildfire prediction, detection, forecasting; supercomputers for weather and climate model development for drought flood, and fire; coastal, ocean and Great Lakes observing systems; and Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery
DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Major rehabilitation, construction, and related activities for rivers and harbors
Water-related environmental infrastructure assistance
Construction, replacement, rehabilitation, and expansion of inland waterways projects
Previously approved construction projections under federal legislation; Aquatic ecosystem/Restore fish and wildlife passages
Aquatic ecosystem restoration projects, for multi-purpose projects
Coastal storm risk management, hurricane and storm damage reduction projects, and activities targeting States that have been impacted by federally declared disasters over the last six years
Inland flood risk management projects
Additional funds authorized for the Army Corp of Engineers
Investigations by the Secretary of the Army through the Chief of Engineers to undertake work authorized under the Water Resources Development Act of 1974
Mississippi River and Tributary projects, including emergencies and disasters
Operation and Maintenance (over a three-year period)
Emergency Regulatory Programs
Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies; Expenses
The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Program Account for dam safety
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
Bureau of Reclamation (Water and Related Resources)
Feasibility studies and construction of previously approved water storage, groundwater storage, and conveyance projects. Includes small-scale storage and groundwater projects
Major rehabilitation and replacement of water infrastructure including funds for dam failures, dam rehabilitation or replacement
Rural water projects previously authorized by an Act of Congress, in accordance with the Reclamation Rural Water Supply Act of 2006
Water recycling and reuse projects
Implementing the Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan and the Drought Contingency Plan for the Upper Colorado River Basin
Multibenefit habitats, protection against invasive species, restoration of aspects of the natural ecosystems, enhancement of commercial, recreational, subsistence, or Tribal ceremonial fishing, or enhancement of river-based recreation
Water desalination projects and studies authorized or approved for construction funding by an Act of Congress before July 1, 2021; or selected for funding under the program
Safety of dams in accordance with the Reclamation Safety of Dams Act of 1978
WaterSMART grants in accordance with the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009
Financial assistance for watershed management projects in river basins adversely affected by Bureau of Reclamation projects
Design, study, and construction of aquatic ecosystem restoration and protection projects
Endangered species recovery and conservation programs in the Colorado River Basin in accordance with public law
Central Utah Project Completion Account
Bureau of Indian Affairs (Projects on Indian Lands)
Construction, repair, improvement, maintenance of irrigation and power systems, dams, sanitation, and other facilities
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
Environmental Programs and Management programs
Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
San Francisco Bay
Long Island Sound
Gulf of Mexico
Southern New England Estuaries
Columbia River Basin
Other geographic activities which includes Pacific Northwest
National Estuary Program grants
The Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan
Class VI Wells permitting
Battery Recycling best practice and labeling programs
EPA Major Safe Drinking Water and Contaminants Grants
Clean Water State Revolving Funds under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act
Drinking Water State Revolving Funds under the Safe Drinking Water Act
Capitalization grants for lead service line replacement projects and the identification, planning, design, and replacement of lead service lines
Clean Water State Revolving Funds under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to address emerging contaminants
Capitalization grants for the Drinking Water State Revolving Funds under the Safe Drinking Water Act to address emerging contaminants in drinking water with a focus on perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances
Addressing emerging contaminants in underserved communities, under the Safe Drinking Water Act
EPA Additional Safe Drinking Water and Federal Pollution Control Act Funding
For authorized purposes of the Safe Drinking Water Act in addition to amounts otherwise authorized to be appropriated for those purposes
For authorized purposes of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act in addition to amounts otherwise authorized to be appropriated for those purposes