As cities aspire to tackle critical water infrastructure projects, funding remains a challenge. This year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced additional funding is available for critical water infrastructure projects through its Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program, as well as the new State Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (SWIFIA) program. A new program and part of America’s Water Infrastructure Act, SWIFIA gives states an additional opportunity to provide reliable low interest rates for critical water infrastructure projects.

Through WIFIA and SWIFIA, up to $6 billion will support $12 billion in critical water infrastructure projects and will be expected to create more than 35,000 jobs across the United States. Communities also can take advantage of State Revolving Funds (SRF), now financially supported through SWIFIA, to boost funding for projects. With many communities hit hard by the financial stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, WIFIA and SWIFIA loans are available for communities of all sizes and aim to support a diverse range of critical water infrastructure projects.

Project Prioritization

While any utility is eligible to receive WIFIA or SWIFIA funding, critical water infrastructure projects meeting certain criteria will receive priority. Construction-ready projects that meet one of three needs — update aging infrastructure; reduce exposure to lead and address emerging contaminants; or focus on water reuse and recycling — will be considered in a better position to receive funding.

The EPA’s 2020 funding provided through WIFIA and SWIFIA builds upon existing active projects already receiving prior financial support from the EPA through past years’ loan programs. As of July, 49 projects across the United States have received funding from WIFIA and could also receive additional funding to expand or begin critical water infrastructure projects through this year’s program. So far this year, 24 WIFIA loans totaling $5.3 billion have been distributed to help finance water infrastructure projects across the country.

Communities Benefit

One community recently reaped the benefit of the ongoing program. The City of Wichita received a WIFIA loan, locking in a low interest rate of 1.17%, to cover nearly $280 million in construction costs on a new water treatment plant.

The WIFIA loan was secured after city officials worked with an integrated team of federal government, public works and utilities, finance and law representatives. The WIFIA loan will save water ratepayers millions of dollars, while also helping the utility provide continued clean drinking water services for the community with a new plant and jobs for over 350 on-site construction workers.

Cost-Efficient Process

In addition to the funding provided through WIFIA and SWIFIA, using a design-build approach can help lock in material prices and low interest rates with an expedited project schedule. For example, steel prices are low right now and can be locked in across a project’s life cycle.

Low interest rates, combined with high numbers of available, employable skilled workers, make this a buyer's market. Especially for projects aimed at updating aging critical water infrastructure and providing jobs, a design-build project approach could help with improving a funding application for a WIFIA or SWIFIA loan.

 

With low interest rates and funding available, now is an opportune time to advance your critical infrastructure project. Dive deeper into the cost savings picture.

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by
Tracy Streeter, a water planning and supply specialist at Burns & McDonnell, specializes in assisting communities and industries throughout Kansas and across the country with water planning and water supply solutions.