Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs of New York State

The importance of modern, reliable and efficient public drinking water systems is self evident. The health of our communities, the protection of our waterbodies, the prospects for energy savings, and future economic growth and development, are linked to our ability to maintain, and as necessary, upgrade these facilities. There is no disputing that the cost of maintaining the viability of New York's drinking water systems is larger than what local governments and the state can address on their own. There is a compelling need for a more comprehensive and sustainable water infrastructure funding program, yet insufficient mechanisms exist to provide that funding. The conservative cost estimate of repairing, replacing, and updating New York's drinking water infrastructure is $38.7 billion over the next 20 years.

This report, developed by the Department's Center for Environmental Health, is intended to provide a comprehensive overview of the state's drinking water infrastructure needs, identify the factors that have led to the current status, and establish a process for assessing and identifying the steps needed to address current and future drinking water infrastructure needs. This report (PDF, 456KB, 21pp) should serve as a foundation for New York's efforts to address the issue, and as a first step in the critical process of establishing a sustainable drinking water infrastructure funding program.

Executive Summary

The conservative cost estimate of repairing, replacing, and updating New York's drinking water infrastructure is $38.7 billion over the next 20 years. In 1996, the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) was created by the federal and New York State governments to provide low interest loans and grants for water system improvement projects. Since that time, New York State has invested almost $2.4 billion in drinking water infrastructure through the DWSRF program.

Despite this level of investment, approximately 95 percent of the projects submitted for inclusion in the DWSRF program remain unfunded due to a lack of available funds.

New York State's DWSRF program has worked diligently to stretch its allocated funds in the most cost effective and efficient way possible by utilizing 3 to 1 leveraging, hardship awards and short-term financings. New York continues to implement improvements to the program with recent changes including the introduction of bond guarantee financing, the promotion of smart growth principles in drinking water project design and streamlining of the application package/procedures. These innovations allow the DWSRF program to consistently provide affordable financing for water system improvement projects.

As a result of these efforts, the New York State Department of Health and Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) received the United States Environmental Protection Agency's (USEPA) 2007 DWSRF Award for Sustainable Public Health Protection for showing exceptional creativity in designing projects that promote sustainability and protect public health.

Unfortunately, DWSRF funds can only stretch so far and with limited federal and state assistance available, the burden of maintaining drinking water infrastructure falls on local governments. Many local municipalities have trouble convincing their residents that infrastructure must be managed proactively, including planning for repairs and replacement and charging rates that cover those costs. While many municipalities may have a capital improvement plan for their drinking water systems, they often only look at immediate needs or plan for five to ten years into the future. Except for transportation infrastructure, water and wastewater infrastructure are the largest municipal assets. This report is an initial step toward the development of a sustainable infrastructure funding program at the federal, state and local levels. Adequate drinking water infrastructure funding is a critical component of urban revitalization, smart economic growth, energy efficiency and property tax relief. It is essential for the protection of public health and the environment.