The federal emphasis on water safety has permeated state and local governments
By Mary Scott Nabers
As public officials throughout the country rush to react to intense rain and flooding, sustainability continues to emerge as a critical issue and the protection of water assets has elevated to one of the nation’s highest priorities.
The problem is clear and critical – water infrastructure must be protected from the ravages of storms. Otherwise, not only are the country’s water resources in danger, but all types of infrastructure are in jeopardy. Congress, recognizing the need to act quickly, has provided funding assistance through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) along with numerous other programs. Billions in funding has become available for projects that result in water infrastructure upgrades.
With funding available, projects are being launched at a rapid pace. Projects related to stormwater management, replacement of corroded water distribution pipes and/or enhancement efforts to protect water systems in other ways have already received tens of millions in funding.
City leaders in Dallas announced a water resilience initiative that will likely be delivered through a public-private partnership. The project will replace a 14-acre surface parking lot, while improving and enhancing the city’s stormwater management infrastructure. Additionally, a new 11-acre community park where a network of stormwater management facilities is managed will be made stronger and more resilient.
Officials in Annapolis, Maryland, announced a $20 million water sustainability project that will deliver economic development benefits. The work will include installing flood barriers and other mitigation measures to protect and revitalize a city dock that is vulnerable to storm surge flooding. The dock, a local economic hub as well as a tourist attraction, will benefit from the economic stimulus.
Design work is underway for a project to address stormwater issues in Kalamazoo, Michigan. This $30 million water project will replace old stormwater pipes and water mains along one of the city’s heavily trafficked roadways. The plan also calls for construction of protected bike lanes along the roadway.
Cybersecurity risk continues to be a significant national concern. Technology networks touch every aspect of infrastructure – especially water resources. Funding is available to governmental entities for projects that upgrade water plants and systems.
One federal funding program, the Industrial Control Systems (ICS) cybersecurity initiative, will invest capital in modern technologies and systems that provide threat visibility, indications detection and warnings for water systems.
The federal government’s support for water infrastructure has also provided funding to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Most recently, the EPA announced that its upcoming fiscal year budget includes $25 million in funding for projects that enhance network security for water systems.
Many regional water districts are contributing funding as well. The Great Lakes Water Authority is supervising a project to bring $3.4 million in new cybersecurity technologies to local water resources. The program will allocate $450,000 between 2023 and 2024 for cybersecurity monitoring services and another $1 million for cloud migration projects that consolidate and protect water infrastructure controls with advanced cybersecurity protections.
Congress is also focusing on allocating funds for water infrastructure projects in underserved communities. Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives approved even more funding for large water infrastructure projects that increase equity. The federal government has $25.3 billion available for projects that equitably improve, expand or build water resources. It also authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carry out 18 pending construction projects and 72 feasibility studies for water resources development projects.
In the U.S., 10 million households and 400,000 schools connect to water through lead pipes and service lines. The danger of lead poisoning from water lines is significant. An allotment of $15 billion is earmarked in the BIL for projects to upgrade water pipes.
The federal emphasis on water safety has permeated state and local governments. Ohio will invest $4 million to identify and replace toxic water pipes. Another $600,000 allocation provides aid for identifying and mapping lead water lines specifically in rural areas. Officials in Forest Park, Illinois, allocated $4 million for lead line replacement work immediately and approved a $20 million plan to replace all lead water lines.
Mary Scott Nabers is the President and CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc.