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Senate and Assembly propose boosting clean water spending

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  • Proposals could boost spending on new Water Infrastructure Improvement Act grants program to as much as $325 million per year.
  • Our coalition continues to highlight the need for $800 million in annual spending, recognizing that New York State faces the nation’s greatest documented need for wastewater infrastructure investment to stop water pollution.
  • Environmental Protection Fund proposals will support increased spending on the Hudson River Estuary Program and key grant programs to reduce pollution from farms, and from community sewage and stormwater systems.

Both the New York State Senate and Assembly have proposed boosting spending for the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act, building on increases Gov. Andrew Cuomo had already proposed.

The governor proposed boosting annual spending from $75 million to $125 million. The Assembly has proposed an additional $25 million boost to $150 million. The Senate supported the Governor’s proposal, and proposed a separate, similar $200 million program, which could bring total spending this year to $325 million. Riverkeeper and the coalition we’re working with are reviewing these proposals.

The next step in the budget process is for Assembly and Senate leaders to negotiate with the Governor ahead of the April 1 deadline for finalizing the state’s FY16-17 budget.

The first round of funding from the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act, announced in December, showed how needed and valuable this program is. The $75 million in announced grants will be used to fund $440 million in total project costs. The grants resulted in approximately 30% increase in grant funding for water quality projects in the Hudson River Watershed.

Recognizing that New York State has the nation’s greatest defined need for wastewater infrastructure investments, totaling at least $31 billion over 20 years, and a similar need for drinking water infrastructure, our coalition has called for — and continues to call for — $800 million in annual funding for water infrastructure. We’re thankful the Governor, Senate and Assembly have continued to take steps to increase funding, and we continue to ask them to work toward this goal.

The Senate and Assembly one-house bills also have other spending proposals that are largely positive. The Governor and both houses are in agreement about spending $300 million on the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) this year, including $5 million for the Hudson River Estuary Program, a boost in the net available for this important program of $500,000.

The EPF funds several key water quality programs, including the Water Quality Improvement Program (WQIP) and Municipal Non Point Source abatement program, which help communities invest in sewer and stormwater systems and reduce water pollution. These essential programs in 2015 paid out three years’ worth of grant funds, $31 million in total. Applications exceeded available funding by a 4:1 ratio. After carve-outs proposed in the three FY16-17 budgets for specific projects, these programs will have at most $18 million included in the FY16-17 budget, a near doubling from the one-year allocation last year, but clearly still far short of the need. Riverkeeper has called for spending $25 million, and supports maximal spending on the core grant programs, consistent with the Governor’s proposal to spend at least $10 million on WQIP and $8 million on municipal non-point source abatement. Both Senate and Assembly have proposed carve-outs that should be moved or eliminated to ensure the core program is sufficiently funded.

The EPF also funds important programs to reduce agricultural pollution, and Riverkeeper has advocated for $25 million annually, particularly to improve manure storage capacity on farms. Our goal is to eliminate the massive pollution that results when manure is spread on frozen fields in winter, where it ultimately is washed into waterways with snowmelt or rain. Though short of our goal, both the Senate and Assembly proposals would spend $17.5 million, slightly more than the Governor on the core grant program, by taking the wise step of removing the governor’s proposed carve-out for a non-environmental program that promotes the dairy industry.

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