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Why the Governor’s Budget Is Good News for Clean Water

There’s news breaking today that Gov. Andrew Cuomo intends to propose boosting spending in the next New York State budget for the Environmental Protection Fund, increasing year-over-year funding from by nearly $125 million to $300 million. That’s the amount a coalition of organizations, including Riverkeeper, has advocated for, and which received strong support in recent statewide polling.

Update: The Governor’s proposal would also increase spending on the popular New York State Water grants program by $50 million. In all, the New York State Water grants program will fund $325 million over its first three years. It was established by the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2015, after advocacy by Riverkeeper and a coalition of organizations. (The first round of $75 million in grants was announced in December, and under the Governor’s proposal, $125 million will be spent in each of the next two years, an increase of $50 million per year. The first round of grants resulted in an increase of approximately 30% in state grant spending for water quality improvement projects in the Hudson River Watershed.)

The Legislature will negotiate following the Governor’s presentation of his budget Wednesday, with a final budget typically passed (in recent years, anyway) by April 1.

The Environmental Protection Fund, known as the EPF, is known for funding open space protection, recycling and a variety of other projects. Perhaps less well known, it is also a critical source of funding for several programs important to Riverkeeper. We have advocated not only for the increase in overall funding, but for increases to the specific EPF line items, including:

Agricultural Non-Point Source Pollution Control, particularly for critically needed investments in manure storage at concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Without winter manure storage facilities, industrial dairies and other farms too often spread manure on frozen fields, only to have it wash into local streams, causing extreme episodes of pollution.

Water Quality Improvement Program, which provides grants for communities to invest in infrastructure to stop sewage leaks and overflows that pollute our waterways; and the Municipal Non-Point Source Pollution Control Program, which provides grants to reduce pollution related to streetwater runoff. These longstanding and effective programs are routinely “oversubscribed,” meaning the demand from communities far outstrips available resources. In December, the state announced $31 million worth of grants that had accrued in these two EPF lines over three years; the unmet community demand for support in the latest round totaled $134 million for shovel-ready projects to improve water quality, according to a preliminary tally of DEC data by Riverkeeper.

The Hudson River Estuary Program, which is in the final stages of publishing a new Action Agenda for the region that puts improving water quality as a top goal, among many worthy goals. The Program supports, manages and funds many community projects, including watershed and restoration protection efforts in the Hudson River and the streams that feed it, where Riverkeeper has documented the need for water quality improvements.

Waterfront Revitalization, which funds a variety of projects, including watershed management planning.

The overall need for public investments by all levels of government still dwarfs the available spending, with the cost over 20 years estimated at $36 billion for wastewater alone. But these new investments are a positive step, one we hope to build on toward our goal — shared by a coalition of organizations — this year of seeing $800 million allocated to clean water infrastructure.

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