States should be given greater latitude to address the public health risks that matter most
The need for investment in the U.S. water system is at an unprecedented level. On average, 14 to 18% of total daily treated potable water in the United States is lost through leaks, with some water systems reporting water-loss rates exceeding 60%.  Much of the nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure was built in the 1970s and 1980s. Since then, the share of federal capital investment has declined, putting most capital-funding responsibility on state and local governments, which are increasingly juggling several funding priorities. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than $744 billion funding is necessary to upgrade our current drinking water infrastructure to meet federal water quality and public health and safety requirements. 
Funding from the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021 (DWWIA) is spread over 5 years for the restoration and improvement of drinking water infrastructure in the United States. Most of the funding directed towards the objectives of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was provided to Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (DWSRF). Roughly six times the average annual appropriations for SDWA programs was provided in the DWWIA. Other DWWIA funding was directed towards goals contained in new EPA authorities focused on specific objectives outside the SDWA’s goals.
Congress established the DWSRF to provide states sustainable, long-term financial assistance to support their communities’ water infrastructure needs. The DWSRF grants states the authority to determine their own SRF priorities and projects. While the DWWIA funding is a necessary and timely investment, its dispersion across multiple Congressionally directed objectives and new programs combined with EPA implementing guidance enlarges the role of the federal government in the state-run SRF programs.
Efforts by the EPA in its implementation guidance of the DWWIA funding requires states to “renew” their Intended Use Plan (IUP) projects and to evaluate those project priorities by comparison to EPA preferences. This is an area where the EPA lacks statutory authority and will delay needed projects and potentially thwart locally determined priorities. Such efforts undermine states’ authority to prioritize projects against science-based risk assessments.
Funding to states according to their determination of risks to safe drinking water must be recognized by both Congress and EPA as the only way to achieve the public health benefits of the SDWA.
The Water & Health Advisory Council strongly believes that states must have greater leeway over how drinking water revolving fund dollars are spent. States should determine how and where these funds will achieve the public health goals of the SDWA. Drinking water utility managers and water district leaders have the greatest insights on local challenges and must be given the discretion to set priorities within the SDWA’s objectives.
As Congress conducts oversight on the safe drinking water programs and moves to fund the annual appropriation of the DWSRF, we urge them to respect and protect the spirit and intent of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund over the past two decades. State and local authorities know best how to meet their communities’ drinking water needs—the federal government often does not.