Over 130 water utility leaders from 46 states traveled to Capitol Hill on April 1, 2014 to advocate for the creation of a Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority (WIFIA) during the American Water Work Association’s “Water Matters!” event.

Water utility leaders believe the WIFIA proposal is an effective way to make low-interest federal loans available for large water, wastewater and stormwater projects. Along with WIFIA, leaders are in support of a continued effort to improve the State Revolving Funds program, which utility leaders say cannot address the nation’s enormous water infrastructure needs alone, and is rarely able to support large water infrastructure projects.

WIFIA is intended to address this gap and provide long-term, low-interest loans for projects over $20 million that cannot always access funding through the SRF programs.

The proposal was passed by the U.S. Senate in May as part of the Water Resources Development Act (S.601). The House passed H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, in the fall of 2013, but without a WIFIA title. Now a House-Senate conference is meeting with the aim of producing a single water resources bill.

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The “Water Matters!” event comes as AWWA releases its 2014 State of the Water Industry Report, which shows that water and wastewater infrastructure is the top concern of water professionals throughout North America. A study from AWWA in 2012 showed the costs of repairing and expanding drinking water infrastructure alone will top $1 trillion over the next 25 years.

“The time for WIFIA is now,” said Aurel Arndt, chair of AWWA’s Water Utility Council and chief executive officer of Lehigh, Penn., County Authority. “If a community can save just two percentage points on the interest rate for a 30-year loan, that results in cost savings of 25 percent for the total project. That’s big savings for local communities without significantly impacting the federal budget.”