Sewer and stormwater stimulus? Advocating infrastructure funding in next Federal COVID-stimulus bill

Construction obligations, possible revenue loss expected to impact customers

Pieces of Doan Valley Tunnel’s concrete lining are placed on the segment car to be transported to the advancing tunnel boring machine.

a letter to federal congressional leaders, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District requested the inclusion of sewer and stormwater infrastructure in the next round of COVID stimulus funding.

The funding would allow clean water agencies, who provide critical public health and environmental services, to fill operations revenue losses and ensure continued delivery of services while meeting ongoing regulatory requirements.

Nationwide, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies estimates that public clean water agencies will face a $16.8 billion loss of revenue as a result of the pandemic. Locally, the Sewer District is preparing for a revenue loss of $70 million to $110 million this year.

“One of the most critical public health services is wastewater treatment and stormwater management, and the essential and critical workforce at the Sewer District takes that obligation seriously to serve our customers by protecting public health and environment,” said Sewer District CEO Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells.

“Regardless of its profound public-health importance, our customers pay the vast majority of the cost for sewer and stormwater infrastructure. Our priority right now is to determine how we can continue to provide top-notch service while reducing future financial impacts on our customers. Federal funding helps to reduce those impacts.”

All wastewater utilities are expected to meet all regulatory requirements and fulfill their legally-required sewer construction schedules, regardless of the National State of Emergency and economic impact caused by the pandemic.

The Sewer District’s 2020 budget includes more than $260 million in construction work; nearly 60 percent is designated for projects legally required to proceed under Project Clean Lake, a program designed to reduce the amount of raw sewage discharging into the environment during heavy rain storms. Over 800 communities across the country have similar construction work.

“We’re making tough decisions to reduce costs. For example, we put a hold on discretionary spending and instituted a hiring freeze, and there are some projects that can and will be delayed. This is concerning because these are projects that address long-standing issues, like flooding and erosion, in problem areas,” said Dreyfuss-Wells. “Federal funding would help move these projects forward.”

The letter from the Sewer District to Federal congressional leaders included the following requests:

  • Federal assistance to help water and wastewater utilities maintain services to low-income and struggling households during the pandemic;
  • Federal assistance to help mitigate lost utility revenues due to sharply reduced water demand; and
  • Inclusion of strong funding for all utility providers, regardless of ownership, through established water infrastructure investment programs like the State Revolving Fund (SRF), Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), and the USDA Rural Development, just to name a few.

In addition to Federal representatives, the Sewer District sent letters to state legislators, requesting considerations to SB 310 (Bill), which authorizes and allocates funding from the Coronavirus Relief Fund as received from the federal CARES Act. The Sewer District requests the Bill be amended to permit the Sewer District and other regional water and sewer districts (ORC§6119) to access this funding. The Sewer District currently would not be eligible for CARES funding under SB 310 as introduced and passed by the Ohio Senate.

“As we continue to grapple with the effects of coronavirus, there are two things the Sewer District promises throughout this pandemic and beyond,’ said Dreyfuss-Wells. ‘The first is our commitment to protect the health and safety of employees today and in the future. The second is to our customers. The Sewer District is here 24/7/365 and will always work tirelessly to ensure they have safe and reliable wastewater and stormwater services.”

Official Medium channel of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District in Cleveland, OH