Texas dilutes federal infrastructure funds | Texas News | San Antonio
This article was originally published by the Texas Observer, a non-profit investigative media. Sign up for their weekly newsletter or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
There is a time bomb at the bottom of the Llano River, near a small town called Junction. In 2018, major flood across the watershed submerged the region’s water infrastructure as high water brought silt, dirt and debris with it. Almost three years later, the exposed sewer lines under the river still have not been properly buried. When the next flood hits the Hill Country, those pipes could rupture, an expert says, spilling millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Llano River and other nearby drinking water sources.
It’s just a potential problem that Katherine Romans, executive director of the conservation group Alliance Pays des Collines, hoped to avoid it by getting some of the federal stimulus money for water infrastructure projects. The Biden initiative, called the American Rescue Plan Act, provided $ 1.9 trillion in unconditional cash for states to invest in infrastructure projects, public health, and other needs that could have been abandoned due to budget deficits related to COVID-19. “These communities are on the verge of losing their drinking water supply or having catastrophic outages with sewage pipes,” she said. Water supply infrastructure systems across the Hill Country are almost 100 years old and in need of repair for leaks as well as technology upgrades.
But the Texas legislature refused to allocate any of those federal dollars for water infrastructure. The $ 1.9 trillion bill provided states with a stash of money to invest in infrastructure projects, public health and other needs that could have been abandoned due to COVID-related budget deficits -19. Texas received nearly $ 16 billion through the American Rescue Plan Act. Stimulus was a top priority for President Joe Biden and Congressional Democrats this year.
But after boosting funding for healthcare and other pandemic-related issues, lawmakers have proposed a bill that will distribute most of the rest of the funds to increase staff at agencies that oversee state soldiers. and prisons, as well as cybersecurity. Lawmakers have ignored an urgent need to invest in dams, pipelines and treatment plants.
Water infrastructure systems across Texas have fallen into disrepair. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave Texas’ drinking water infrastructure a C- rating, and its water water a D. (The organization gave the nation as a whole a similar unsatisfactory rating). In February, when a severe winter storm cut power to Texas and other states for days, millions of residents lost access to running water, too much; treatment plants went offline and burst pipes sparked widespread fears of water contamination. The state’s aging infrastructure leads to more than 1,000 boil water advisories, warning residents that their water is unfit to drink without boiling, statewide, even in normal years, according to the ASCE report. Austin, for example, can lose billions of gallons a year – water that never reaches a customer or a treatment plant – due to leaks in the distribution pipes that carry water from treatment plants to homes and businesses.
“About a third of our waterways are polluted with faecal bacteria. We have serious drought and flooding problems, and some communities do not have access to running water, ”said Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas. “Our water infrastructure is not as resilient as it should be, especially in the face of the climate crisis. There was a missed opportunity [in the last legislative session] investing in solutions that could have made Texans less vulnerable to disruption as we saw in February.
In addition to this, the population of Texas is among fastest growing in the country, and demand for water is expected to skyrocket over the next few decades. Simply meeting growing needs and developing new long-term water sources is very expensive: $ 63 billion over the next 50 years, according to the Texas Water Development Board, a state agency.
Some of the funding from ARPA could have bolstered existing programs outlined in the state water body. It was also an opportunity to get grants for technology updates or conservation programs that have not been widely adopted in Texas, said Amanda Fuller, director of the Texas Coast and Water program at National Wildlife. Federation. The National Wildlife Foundation and a coalition of allies, including equity-focused urban groups, and rural groups like the Hill Country Alliance, have advocated that the Legislature allocate $ 2.1 billion from ARPA to a wide variety of programs that could have contributed to increasing the resilience of local communities. whose water supplies are strained by climate change. The money could have been used to repair old pipelines, build new tanks or storage tanks, and buy back-up generators in the event of future power outages. “We really thought that some of the water infrastructure would surely get attention with this money,” Fuller said. “But neither [the] Neither the House nor the Senate is a penny for water.
A significant chunk of ARPA funding – over $ 10 billion – has gone to the state’s unemployment fund, as well as hospital staff and health care. But environmental groups like the Sierra Club critical other legislative decisions, such as the allocation of $ 3.8 billion for the salaries of employees of the Department of Criminal Justice, which oversees prisons, and the Department of Public Security, the umbrella agency for soldiers of state and border security personnel. An additional $ 200 million has been spent on cybersecurity programs.
Existing state and federal funds for water infrastructure projects are almost always at their peak, advocates say. “All the investments we can make and all the programs that open up greater access to small rural communities are worth it,” Romans said, making the Legislative Assembly’s decision to ignore water infrastructure all the more. disappointing. Grant-based financing in particular would have provided more equity where new water projects are built: it was an opportunity for small utilities to invest without raising water prices for customers. Rural water districts, for example, often cannot afford to increase tariffs for customers to build new storage tanks or processing plants. Lack of funds can make things more difficult for small towns to have clean drinking water. “Many municipalities have fixed incomes,” says Romans. “That is, they have an aging population that cannot afford to pay more for their [water bill], or they may lose population.
Senator Jane Nelson, a Republican from Flower Mound who is also chair of the Senate Budget Drafting Committee, had not returned a request for comment on the story at press time.
Advocates hope that when Biden’s federal infrastructure spending bill is approved, it will provide the state with another opportunity to tap into the much-needed funding. The $ 3.5 trillion infrastructure bill, dubbed “Build Back Better,” is still debated in Congress, and it’s too early to say how much of that money will go to Texas. It is impossible to know exactly how much will be dedicated specifically to water infrastructure, but the Romans can predict one thing: “We will have a lot more demand and need for investments than we will have money to spend. ”
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