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Wastewater infrastructure funding in the United States has declined during the past two decades, partly due to the shift from substantial federal grant funding of secondary treatment facilities in the 1970's and early 1980's to local funding of wastewater facilities today. Given this change in funding approach within our industry, it is now imperative that wastewater agency leaders educate their governing boards and ratepayers on the importance of proactively rehabilitating its infrastructure before it significantly deteriorates and requires complete replacement, which is much more expensive.

Because wastewater collection system infrastructure is largely underground, it tends to get even less attention than more “visible” wastewater treatment infrastructure in competing for limited public agency capital program funding. This “invisibility” of the physical infrastructure of wastewater collection systems can be a significant hurdle to overcome for agencies to effectively focus their limited resources on needed condition assessments, and systematic, cost-effective rehabilitation and capital replacement of sanitary sewer and interceptor systems. With emerging regulations on sanitary sewer overflows (SSO's) and the need for agencies to further increase funding to deal with wet weather issues, the problem may reach crisis proportions in the near future.

There is significant disagreement within the water and wastewater industry on how best to fund infrastructure projects - particularly who should bear the fiscal burden for capital improvements. Further divisions could develop between communities that have already developed long-term capital replacement programs and a rate base to sufficiently fund their own infrastructure and those that have not or cannot.

The issue has been exacerbated by other factors. Neither the Administration nor the Congress have shown willingness or desire to divert funds from other priorities during wartime and with already staggering budget deficits; besides, many in Washington thought that we had already “cleaned up” the infrastructure problem in the seventies and eighties with substantial federal grants and loans.

Recognizing its role as the leading wastewater educational organization in the world, the Water Environment Federation (WEF) has established the Wastewater Infrastructure Task Force to lead the industry toward solving the crucial issue of how to gain needed infrastructure funding support.

WEF and the Infrastructure Task Force believe that the best way to address this issue lies in public education…public education that will begin with WEF members and member associations, extend to the media, the general public and ultimately, public policy makers. WEF and the Task Force are moving aggressively forward with this comprehensive educational effort to help solve this infrastructure funding dilemma.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2005

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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