On November 15, 2021, President Biden signed the Infrastructure and Jobs Investment Act, a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package passed by Congress. While the funding level was widdled down from its original version, it still represents a massive invesment in clean water. In fact, this funding bill provides the largest ever investment in water infrastructure, $50 billion over five years. In addition to funding for lead pipe replacement and drinking water infrastructure, the bill provides $27.35 billion to the EPA CWSRF. Over the next five years, $12.7 billion is directly funded, while another $14.65 billion is authorized, essentially allowing the program to be funded through appropriations at roughly double the current annual amount.
This is a major victory for the Surfrider Foundation and our coalition partners, as increasing federal funding to stop sewage pollution at the source was one of our 2021 federal priorities. Surfrider members and activists sent over 5,000 letters to Congress advocating for this this funding, and Surfrider staff participated in countless meetings with congressional representatives and coalition partners to advance this provision. Even though the increase is not at our target level ($40 billion over five years), it still represents a substantial increase in funding and support. Now we’ll just need to ensure that the program gets fully funded in next year’s federal budget.
To the surprise of many, our nation’s beaches and ocean are plagued by frequent spills of raw and undertreated sewage. Much of our wastewater infrastructure, including septic systems, sewer lines, cesspools and combined sewer overflows, are outdated and failing, releasing harmful pollution into our waterways that threaten public health, coastal ecosystems and tourism-based ocean economies.
Over 850 billion gallons of raw sewage are released into US waterways each year from sewer overflows alone. Additionally, polluted stormwater runoff continues to be the main cause of beach closures nationwide, with 10 trillion gallons of untreated stormwater runoff threatening our coastlines and local waterways.
Our nation relies on properly functioning wastewater infrastructure, yet failure to acknowledge and adequately fund these resources has led to a backlog of roughly $271 billion worth of necessary infrastructure upgrades. This doesn’t even consider the threats coastal infrastructure faces from rising sea levels and exacerbated storm events associated with climate change.
Programs like the EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) were developed to assist states and local communities with meeting wastewater infrastructure needs, including funding green stormwater projects and necessary infrastructure upgrades. However the Clean Water SRF hasn’t been properly funded for decades, despite the well-established economic returns and stimulus that occur from investing in America’s water infrastructure (every $1 in water infrastructure investment results in $2.40 of economic returns).
Surfrider was honored to join clean water advocates from around the country to call on the 117th congress to allocate $40 billion ($8 billion annual over 5 years) for the Clean Water SRF. It's time to catch up with the sewage infrastructure needs of our growing communities across the country and better protect clean water for all people. We will continue to advocate for funding for this program through the annual federal appropriations process.