Schumer Pushes For Federal Grants To NYS Municipalities Water Projects

Mar 27, 2015

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer has launched a push to help communities around New York better afford much-needed sewer repair projects.

Sewer projects are often complicated and expensive — difficult for municipalities, especially smaller ones, to afford, because in recent years, federal funding that helps pay for many of them has been available almost exclusively as loans, not grants.    "Crumbling sewers and system undermine both health and economic development. We of New York State have some of the oldest sewer systems in the country. Many of these systems are long overdue for upgrades to ensure the price tag doesn't rise higher or put public health at risk, and this year we've heard of several water main breaks and waste water systems failures. It highlights the importance and immediacy of the infrastructure upgrade."

Schumer says localities need to repair and upgrade their sewer infrastructure due to environmental and health concerns, and often they are mandated to do so in order to comply with the federal Clean Water Act.

The Democrat says he fought to include a provision in the 2014 Water Resources bill that allows states to give up to 30 percent of their federal funding out as grants, instead of just loans.

Schumer noted that the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) receives more than $150 million in federal funds for sewer repair projects each year. He is urging it to make $46 million of that funding – the maximum allowed – available to communities around the state in the form of grants.  "When the grant funds become available, towns want to move quicker to start work on the sewer repairs they've been putting off. And for towns that secure a long-term low-interest loan, a grant from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund helps them pay down the expected interest, or subsidizes the project and makes it more affordable."

Schumer cited a project in the Orange County village of Maybrook.   "They've applied for $6 million to completely overhaul the sewage treatment plant in order to improve water quality in the Otterkill River. Now that's a lot of money for a small village, so grant money would be critical to them."

Maybrook Mayor Dennis Leahy:   "It's the biggest capital project that our village has ever seen. We're the little fish in a big pond and basically, very thankful that he's looking at our needs. This is a big undertaking by our village, and whatever help we get is appreciated."

Schumer also points to grant funding heading to Schoharie County.   "The town of Cobleskill is looking to install pump stations and make major improvements to its sewer collectors to improve the mains along Route 7."

Cobleskill Mayor Linda Holmes adds there's  work being done to the municipal water supply.   "The project is a reservoir project, which is a $3.1 million project through FEMA. It's a three-year program where the first year we're drawing up our plans in regards to what we need to do at our reservoirs and we have spillways that have to be redone, and we also need to do some dredging of silt that has built up within the reservoir itself, and get it back to the capacity it was once before. And the second year we'll be beginning the project, and the third of course will be finishing up what we have."

The federal Department of Commerce estimates that each job created in a local water and wastewater industry creates more than 3.5 jobs in the national economy and each public dollar spent yields $2.50 in economic output in other industries.

Currently, 279 projects in upstate New York and the Hudson Valley are awaiting funding:

-          In the Capital Region, there are a total of 37 sewer projects awaiting federal funding this year alone.

-          In Central New York, there are a total of 56 sewer projects awaiting federal funding this year alone.

-          In Western New York, there are a total of 18 sewer projects awaiting federal funding this year alone.

-          In the Rochester-Finger Lakes, there are a total of 21 sewer projects awaiting federal funding this year alone.

-          In the Southern Tier, there are a total of 26 sewer projects awaiting federal funding this year alone.

-          In the Hudson Valley, there are a total of 65 sewer projects awaiting federal funding this year alone.

-          In the North Country, there are a total of 56 sewer projects awaiting federal funding this year alone.

-          On Long Island, there are a total of 42 sewer projects awaiting federal funding this year alone.

Schumer adds that CWSRF is particularly important to New York because the state gets approximately 11% of the program’s funding level every year. New York’s funding level is so high due to a combination of population, age of infrastructure and cost to undertake major infrastructure projects.  In the 25 years CWSRF has been in existence, the program has financed nearly 1,650 projects and New York has benefitted from close to $13.6 billion in leveraged financing from just $1.95 billion in federal investment.

A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) appears below:

Dear President Matthew J. Driscoll,

Last week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allotted New York State $154,982,0000 in funding from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) program. As you are aware, this program is critical to helping local communities fund wastewater projects throughout the State. Local governments throughout New York rely on funds from this program to help advance projects and repairs that would otherwise be cost prohibitive for local rate payers. Over the past several years only limited funding from this Federal Program was authorized to be used as grants instead of as loans. However, as part of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014 the Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) now has the authority to spend as much as 30% of the federal funding it receives on grants instead of loans. I urge you to make full use of this new authority which I fought to include in WRRDA, and to make over $46 million of your federal funds in the CWSRF available to local communities as grants.

Over the past several years my office has heard from a number of communities throughout the State who have raised the lack of available grant dollars for sewer systems as one of the biggest challenges they are facing. It is in response to their calls and the need to advance more sewer system projects throughout New York to the construction phase, that I pushed to include this additional subsidization authority for the CWSRF in WRRDA. Historically, when EFC has made large amounts of grant dollars available for use by local communities or has blended grant funding with low-interest loan authority it has been able to advance a greater number of projects. My hope is that you will make full use of this new authority and that New York State will once again see an uptick in sewer system upgrades and repairs.

In addition to making full use of this authority this year, I would ask that you utilize this new authority for each of the five years covered under WRRDA 2014. I will continue to fight, as I have in previous years, for the highest level of funding for the CWSRF. As long as the federal appropriation to the overall program remains above $1.3 billion, EFC will continue to be able to utilize 30% of its share as grants. Doing so could provide well over $200 million in grant funding for local communities over the next five years. These grant dollars, when combined with EFC’s existing loan authority under the program and with communities independent ability to borrow could be leveraged into massive investments in our State’s sewer system.

I appreciate your consideration of this request and look forward to continuing to work with you to advance sewer infrastructure projects in New York State. By working together to ensure that local communities are provided the greatest possible access to federal funds we can help spur investment into our critical wastewater infrastructure. Should you need more information or have further questions please do not hesitate to contact my office.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator