New Priorities for Fed Infrastructure Plan

Without access to necessary capital and help from the federal government or the private sector, government leaders are helpless

By Mary Scott Nabers

Conversations regarding the $1 trillion Trump administration infrastructure plan are starting to amp up again. Although initially pushed to the back burner by efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare and then by tax reform efforts, the outcry over lack of funding to address the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure is building.

In early May, the White House press secretary said that despite delays, the infrastructure package will “absolutely” be rolled out this year. The president has made it clear that he plans to give priority to projects that involve private funds, such as public-private partnerships (P3s/PPPs) and other innovative uses of private investment dollars.

However, many industry experts and government officials fear that when President Donald Trump’s proposed infrastructure plan is finally “laid out,” water infrastructure projects could largely be “left out.” But, just when the clouds of uncertainty were darkening even more, issuance of an unexpected request for information (RFI) has provided a little sunshine. Now, water experts and elected officials throughout the country are cautiously optimistic that water infrastructure will be included on the administration’s priority list for funding.

Issued by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, the RFI seeks feedback from the private sector regarding use of P3s for water projects and those respective firms’ interest in participating in such a partnership. It appears to be an indicator of growing interest by the federal government in a variety of large water projects and it may also signal the federal government’s confidence in P3s/PPPs as a way of completing those projects.

This new interest in the use of P3s for water projects is good news for private-sector firms interested in participating in water industry-related projects. It’s in stark contrast to earlier this year, when a prioritized list of 50 infrastructure projects nationwide that ranked high on the administration’s list for investment was made public. Half of the nearly $137 billion in projects was expected to be funded by private investment and only a handful were water-related – and most of those dealt with dams, harbors, and port and lock needs.

To their credit, throughout the U.S., many visionary leaders are moving forward without any support from government. They are launching large water projects with private-sector partners. These elected officials understand that they must do everything possible to stay ahead of the curve on water.

In Colorado, the Colorado State Water Plan has identified $3 billion to $6 billion in new projects and programs that are necessary to meet future needs. Officials there are hopeful federal funding will help jump-start some of the projects.

In early May, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Improvement Act which will work to improve water distribution systems’ safety and quality throughout the state. Cities and states have relied on federal funding for decades but the state of New York has chosen not to wait. The newly signed legislation will work to improve water distribution systems’ safety and quality throughout the state.

Visionary leaders in New York recognized the importance of water infrastructure to the quality of life and economic prosperity of the state’s residents. The new water infrastructure improvement act will, among its allocations, provide funding that includes $1 billion for municipalities to upgrade drinking and wastewater infrastructure; $350 million for clean water infrastructure projects; $245 million for water quality improvement projects; $100 million for municipal water quality infrastructure programs; $150 million for intermunicipal water infrastructure grants; $20 million to replace lead drinking water service lines; and $10 million for a water infrastructure emergency loan fund.

Unfortunately, many other states do not have similar financial resources available to them. They have completely inadequate funding to address water and wastewater needs. While innovative solutions may be available, without access to necessary capital and without help from the federal government or the private sector, these government leaders are helpless.

Early discussions about how the Trump administration plans to leverage private-sector funds in his infrastructure plan were focused on transportation infrastructure. Many have aggressively advocated for expanding the focus to include other parts of the nation’s infrastructure, especially water projects. Issuance of the RFI by the Bureau of Reclamation appears to be a positive sign and if there is great response, it’s possible – and many hope it is probable – that water infrastructure will be ranked high on the administration’s list of priority projects.

Mary Scott Nabers is president and CEO of Strategic Partnerships Inc., a business development company specializing in government contracting and procurement consulting throughout the U.S. She may be reached at maryscottnabers.com.

 

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