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Historic doubling of clean water funding in NYS budget

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Bob LaBuff takes a water sample from Catskill Creek as part of Riverkeeper's community science project. (Photo by Jen Epstein /Riverkeeper)
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Swimmers leap into the Hudson as part of the 8 Bridges Swim. (Photo courtesy Greg Porteus/Launch 5)

Swimmers leap into the Hudson as part of the 8 Bridges Swim. (Photo courtesy Greg Porteus/Launch 5)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature just doubled the commitment to clean water, boosting funding for the New York State Water Infrastructure Improvement Act by $200 million over two years.

Riverkeeper argued for this increase with a broad coalition of organizations representing environmental, water utility, recreational, municipal, planning, engineering and business interests.

This money will provide grants to communities statewide to invest in drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. The first round of grants from the program, announced in December, represented a 30% increase in grants devoted to water quality in the Hudson River watershed.

The money will help get moving the huge backlog of shovel-ready water and wastewater projects – $14 billion in projects identified by the Environmental Facilities Corporation. Overall, New York faces the greatest need in the nation for investment in wastewater infrastructure, at over $31 billion over 20 years, and the third-greatest need for investment in drinking water infrastructure, at $22 billion. Federal investment in wastewater infrastructure has declined 70%, leaving states and localities a greater responsibility. The new state investment is historic because it is reversing the trend of under-investment that has plagued water infrastructure for years.

We see first hand the consequences of our failing infrastructure, when our community science partners hand off samples of water in their local creeks. In the Hudson River Estuary, the water is fit for swimming at many times and locations, but 23% of our samples since 2008 have failed to meet federal safe swimming guidelines, and the failure rate is far higher in the creeks and rivers that feed the estuary, and at waterfront access points around New York City.

The grants are targeted to communities with the greatest need, as defined by median household income and poverty rate, and to communities with sewers that leak or overflow when it rains, resulting in the greatest environmental and public health risks.

Bottom line: These grants will stop pollution. And community scientists helped achieve this.

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