Drinking Water Infrastructure Hamstrung With Antiquated Procurement Practices and Regulations That Inhibit Use of Materials & Increase Water Ratepayers Costs

Water systems engaging in best practices that maintain multiple suppliers and use multiple materials in an open competitive environment say they are finding it to be a strategic enabler.

Final in our series:

Congress Encourages Improved Procurement Practices & Green Infrastructure

Improved Procurement Practices

In Part 4 of our series we talked about the billions of federal dollar$ Congress is directing to remedy the U.S.’ deteriorating drinking water infrastructure. Along with the needed financial assistance Congress is: incorporating stipulations in law to ensure federal dollars are being used efficiently and effectively, focusing on environmentally-friendly green infrastructure and urging local policymakers to ensure best practices and cutting-edge technologies are used. All of these efforts will help moderate rising water ratepayer costs.

There are members of Congress on both sides of the political aisle that support adding provisions in law that require local governments to have open and fair competition for materials used by water systems. Many states sole source their materials based on old, biased and outdated information. Members of Congress are continuing to lead congressional efforts to require open competition for materials when federal funds are used.

Local policymakers across the nation are also strongly encouraging best practices and adoption of new technologies. The U.S. Conference of Mayors (@USMayors) recently began directing a majority of its resources over the next two years to three strategic initiatives: Infrastructure, Innovation and Inclusion. Bryan Barnett, Mayor of Rochester Hills, Michigan and Second Vice President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors explains, “We are committing the resources of the Conference to a consistent, bipartisan direction based on a simple notion that together everyone achieves more. The two-year plan focuses on these three priorities to help cities thrive across the country.”

Water systems engaging in best practices that maintain multiple suppliers and use multiple materials in an open competitive environment say they are finding it to be a strategic enabler. Using their technical expertise, local knowledge, experience and creativity water system officials are broadening their procurement networks and relying on innovations that both drive down project costs and time of completion.

EPA “Agnostic” on Technologies, Encourages Innovation

In our discussions with officials from the Office of Water, Environmental Protection Agency (@EPA), @EPA is “agnostic” about the types of technologies used by water systems as long as the technologies are safe, maintain proper certifications and are effective at reducing, or eliminating contaminants in drinking water. During a congressional hearing on September 19 before the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Administrator Andrew Wheeler (@EPAAWheeler) emphasized @EPA ‘s role in science and technology. Wheeler said, “EPA is one of a few places in the world where this type of cutting-edge science is being conducted day in and day out….We are also leading the way on research for reducing childhood lead exposure. Our scientists are identifying high-risk areas and providing technical assistance for reducing lead in drinking water and at contaminated sites. Their modeling efforts and research activities are directly impacting major regulatory decisions, such as our forthcoming proposal to update to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) – the first major update in over two decades. And the same outstanding researchers who provided vital information to help Flint, Michigan are now working with state and local officials in Newark, New Jersey on their efforts to ensure safe drinking water for the city’s residents.”

@EPA could do themselves, and water systems a favor by being more explicit in the upcoming LCR about their views on use of certified, innovative technologies for drinking water infrastructure.

@EPAAWheeler also took the time to talk about the restructuring of @EPA Office of Research and Development (ORD). Wheeler said the reorganization will, “help ORD better address the increasingly complex environmental challenges of the 21st century. It will not result in the loss of jobs. It does not change any of the important work ORD is tasked with – only how we manage those functions. And I remind you that this effort is led by EPA career staff.” @EPA plans to have the reorganization in place by October 1.

Green Infrastructure

Congress also wants to see more green infrastructure used in drinking water projects. In the FY 2020 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill recently passed by the U.S. House appropriators urged funds in the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) “to be used to finance green infrastructure or energy efficiency projects…”

DWSRF money has funded green projects since the FY 2012 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill.  In addition, during the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and FY 2010 and 2011 Appropriations Acts, a certain percentage of that respective year’s DWSRF appropriations were applied to green projects, or components of projects called Green Project Reserve (GPR).  States have also developed their own green programs and included the criteria for green projects in their state’s Intended Use Plan (IUP).

 GPR projects are defined as green infrastructure, water efficiency, energy efficiency and environmentally innovative. Other definitions include:

  • Green infrastructure: Water management techniques that protect, restore or simulate the natural hydrology.  Green infrastructure can range in scale from site design approaches such as green roofs and pervious pavement to regional planning approaches such as conservation of large tracts of open land
  • Water efficiency: The EPA defines water efficiency as the use of improved technologies and practices to deliver equal or better services with less water. Water efficiency encompasses conservation and reuse efforts, as well as water loss reduction and prevention, to protect water resources for the future.
  • Energy efficiency and environmentally innovative:  Energy efficiency is the use of improved technologies and practices to reduce the energy consumption of water projects, use energy in a more efficient way and/or produce/utilize renewable energy to reduce water system expenditures.

Green Infrastructure is paying environmental dividends. Researchers at the University of Texas – Arlington completed research in August 2017 that presents a comparison of carbon footprint for conventional open-cut and trenchless technology methods for underground freight transportation (UFT), a class of automated transportation systems in which vehicles carry freight through pipelines and tunnels between terminals. Their research concluded that the “carbon footprint for this project showed that the total CO2 produced using trenchless technology method is 887 tons and for open-cut method is 5,379 tons.” Using trenchless technologies decreased the carbon footprint for this project by -83.5%, resulting in more environmentally friendly construction operations. Their research was conducted under a grant from Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) under Project number 0-6870.

In Conclusion

As we mentioned in Part 3 of our series, water rates are continuing to rise. So are rates for other basic services. Consider, GAO in its latest annual Report to Congress on the Fiscal Outlook of Local and State Governments, said , “Absent any policy changes by state and local governments, revenues are likely to be insufficient to maintain the sector’s capacity to provide services at levels consistent with current policies during the next 50 years.”

The enormity of the challenge with deteriorating drinking water infrastructure in the U.S. will drive future water ratepayer cost increases. But, water ratepayers have good reasons to believe their local, state and federally-elected officials and public and private water systems are working to lessen the impacts of rising water rates. Water systems are improving upon their procurement practices and embracing innovation and environmentally-friendly technologies. These things combined will go a long way in stemming the imminent cost increases of drinking water in the U.S.


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