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

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. But, a couple of important things are occurring; 1. Congress is considering provisions in law to ensure federal dollars being used to financially assist water systems are spent efficiently and effectively, and 2. local policymakers are strongly encouraging best practices and adoption of cutting-edge technologies. Both 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 more provisions in law that require local governments to have open and fair competition for materials used in these systems. As you know, many states sole source their materials based on old, biased and outdated information. We will continue to lead Congressional efforts to require open competition for materials when federal funds are used.”

Local policymakers across the nation in a bipartisan fashion are strongly encouraging best practices and adoption of cutting-edge 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 are also engaging in best practices that maintain multiple suppliers and use multiple materials in an open competitive environment. They are finding it is 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.

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.

  • 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.

In conclusion

As we mentioned in Part 3 of our series, water prices 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.”

With what appears to be imminent future cost increases for all types of public services, including drinking water, at least water ratepayers have good reasons to believe their local, state and federally-elected officials and public and private water systems are working to improve upon their procurement practices. They are also embracing innovative technologies. These two things combined should help stem the imminent cost increases.

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