BlueGreen Alliance | Water

Our nation’s drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure is vital to the protection, treatment, and distribution of clean water. However, age, strain from population growth, lack of investment, the pervasiveness of lead pipes, and emerging threats from climate change have increased the burden on the current water infrastructure system and health risks to communities. The nation’s wastewater and drinking water infrastructure received grades of “D+” and “C-” by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), respectively. The good news is that investing in our water infrastructure is a win-win. Water infrastructure investments will boost our economy, and create and sustain thousands of jobs while ensuring communities have safe water and water systems resilient to climate change.

The BIL invests $55 billion in our water systems—the largest federal investment ever. The law provides a little over $15 billion to fund the replacement of lead service lines and other lead remediation activities. This funding is important to improving public health and addressing inequality. As many as 12.8 million homes around the country get their water through lead pipes and service lines. Lead is a toxic metal that harms the brain and nervous system and is especially harmful during pregnancy and infancy when it can decrease IQs, diminish academic abilities, and increase attention deficits and problem behaviors. Even the lowest blood lead levels can affect the developing brain and central nervous system, having irreversible effects. Communities of color and lower-income communities often bear a disproportionate brunt of the hazards of lead water contamination. Eliminating lead exposure in our water systems can not only keep communities safe and healthy, but also create family-sustaining jobs and boost local economies across the country, particularly if members of the impacted communities themselves are hired to do this work.

The $15 billion for lead service line replacement in the BIL would result in the creation of 200,700 jobs over 10 years.

Lead is not the only public health concern. In addition to lead, contaminated water exposes communities to harmful chemicals such as arsenic and PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). More than 27 million Americans get their water from systems that violate health standards, and again, low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately impacted by this contaminated water. The BIL funds a $10 billion down payment on the cleanup of PFAS and other emerging contaminants. This includes $5 billion in grants for small and disadvantaged communities, $4 billion for utilities to address PFAS in drinking water systems, and $1 billion to help wastewater utilities address PFAS in wastewater discharge. 

The aging state of our nation’s water infrastructure is also staggeringly wasteful. Many U.S. communities rely on pipes that are a century old. These pipes leak 6 billion gallons of clean drinking water daily—approximately 14% of treated water—wasting energy and water and disrupting businesses and communities. Additionally, there are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in America—or 700 per day. All that waste from ineffective water distribution systems adds up to a loss of $2.6 billion a year in the United States, or enough water for 68 million Americans. Estimates suggest aggressive action to remedy our ailing water systems could save $1.7 billion, and a Chicago State University study showed that reducing the amount of water leaked annually in the U.S. by only 5% would save enough energy to power 31,000 homes for a year and cut 225,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions.

Climate change also strains our nation’s water infrastructure. The Drinking Water and Clean State Revolving Funds (DWSRF/CWSRF) are the main sources of funding for states not only to update and maintain water infrastructure, but also to ensure that this infrastructure is resilient to climate change. The DWSRF and CWSRF received an infusion of funding in the BIL–$23.5 billion, split equally between the two programs. The bill also makes permanent the Buy America provision in the DWSRF. 

Maintenance and improvement of water infrastructure are becoming increasingly difficult for communities to afford. As these costs are passed on to consumers, existing affordability problems are exacerbated for many communities and individuals across the country. The cost of water and wastewater services have more than doubled in the past twenty years, at the same time incomes of low and moderate income households have essentially remained unchanged.  Communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately affected by unaffordable water rates. Federal water infrastructure funding can address this problem by directing assistance to the communities that need it most—like those facing large gaps between their infrastructure needs and their ability to pay. The BIL authorizes (but does not fund) a new Rural and Low Income Water Assistance Pilot Program to mitigate water and sewer costs for low-income households.

Category Program Name and Description Funding Level Administering Agency or Office Funding mechanism Timeline Standards Eligible Entities
Clean and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds CWSRF – Provides additional funding to the CWSRF that provides loans and grants to fund water infrastructure improvements. $11.713 billion EPA – Office of Water Existing – State Revolving Fund

49% grants/forgivable loans, reduced state match

FY22-26/until expended Davis Bacon, Buy America States/tribes award grants/loans to utilities/municipalities/qualified nonprofit
DWSRF – Provides additional funding to the DWSRF that provides loans and grants to fund water infrastructure improvements. $11.713 billion EPA – Office of Water Existing – State Revolving Fund

49% grants/forgivable loans, reduced state match

FY22-26/until expended Davis Bacon, Buy America States/tribes award grants/loans to utilities/municipalities/qualified nonprofit
Lead Service Line Replacement DWSRF/Lead Service Line Replacement – For lead service line replacement projects and associated activities directly connected to the identification, planning, design, and replacement of lead service lines. $15 billion EPA – Office of Water Existing – State Revolving Fund

49% grants/forgivable loans, 0% state match

FY22-26/until expended Davis Bacon, Buy America States/tribes award grants/loans to utilities/municipalities/qualified nonprofit
Reducing Lead in Drinking Water Grant Program/Lead Service Line Replacement – For lead remediation projects, including lead service line replacement funding. $500 million EPA – Office of Water Existing – Project Grant

Reduces cost-share from 45% to 10% and allows grants to underserved communities to respond to imminent and substantial contamination.

FY22-26 Davis Bacon Community water systems; Water systems located in an area governed by an Indian Tribe; Non-transient non-community water systems, for example, schools and hospitals that have their own water systems; Qualified nonprofit organizations servicing a public water system; Municipalities; State, interstate, or inter municipal agencies, such as a department of environmental protection, an interstate environmental commission, or a joint municipal pollution control board.
Remediation of lead in drinking water Voluntary School and Child Care Program Lead Testing Grant Program – Expands the existing Voluntary School and Child Care Program Lead Testing Grant Program to include activities such as compliance monitoring and lead remediation. $200 million EPA – Office of Water Existing – Formula Grant FY22-26 Davis Bacon

Expands eligibility to water systems, nonprofits, and tribal consortia

States, tribes, public water systems, nonprofits for child care programs, public educational agencies
Low-income assistance Rural and Low Income Water Assistance Pilot Program – Provides assistance for low-income water customers to reduce unpaid/overdue bills and water rates for those customers. Authorization of a 40 city pilot program at EPA EPA – Office of Water New – Formula Grant Prioritizes eligible entities that serve a disproportionate percentage of qualifying households with need, small, rural, disadvantaged communities. Municipality, tribe or other entity.
PFAS and Emerging Contaminants DWSRF/PFAS in Drinking Water – Provides funding for states and water utilities (drinking water and wastewater) to be used in the treatment of PFAS) or any pollutant identified by the EPA Administrator as a contaminant of emerging concern. $4 billion EPA – Office of Water Existing – State Revolving Fund

100% grants/forgivable loans, 0% state match

FY22-26/until expended Davis Bacon, Buy America States/tribes award grants/loans to utilities/municipalities/qualified nonprofit
CWSRF/Emerging Contaminants in Wastewater – Provides funding for states and water utilities (drinking water and wastewater) to be used in the treatment of PFAS or any pollutant identified by the EPA Administrator as a contaminant of emerging concern. $1 billion EPA – Office of Water Existing – State Revolving Fund

100% grants/forgivable loans, 0% state match

FY22-26 Davis Bacon, Buy America States/tribes award grants/loans to utilities/municipalities/qualified nonprofit
Small and Disadvantaged Communities Grant Program/Emerging Contaminants in Small and Disadvantaged Communities – Provides grants to underserved, small and disadvantaged communities that are unable to finance activities needed to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act or respond to emerging contaminants. $5 billion EPA – Office of Water Existing – Formula Grant

100% grants/forgivable loans, 0% cost share

FY22-26 Davis Bacon States, tribes, territories awarded grants for small and disadvantaged communities (as defined in the Safe Drinking Water Act).
Misc. Innovative Water Infrastructure Workforce Development Program – Reauthorizes and expands grants to support recruitment and promotion of diversity within the water sector, training for the water sector, and
activities to improve water sector employee retention.
$25 billion EPA – Office of Water Existing – Competitive Grant FY22-26 N/A Nonprofits, labor organizations, community colleges, institutions of higher education, or other nonprofit training and educational institutions, public works departments and agencies.

Rounding Out the Build Back Better Agenda: Water

The BIL includes significant funding for water infrastructure, but only a little over $15 billion for lead service line replacement and remediation, which is only a third of the funding needed for full lead service line replacement. Additionally, the bill does not take adequate steps to ensure that this funding is going to the communities who need it most. The bill also provides too little or no funding for clean water and drinking water infrastructure, low-income water assistance, and other funding gaps for other critical water infrastructure programs such as the EPA’s Small and Disadvantaged Communities Program.