Building Bridges: How the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) Stabilizes a Fragile System
Most people are aware that our aging infrastructure is reaching a critical point; without immediate intervention, systems across the U.S. will continue to fail at an alarming rate. They have been suffering from a lack of attention, maintenance, and investment since they were built back in the 1970s and 1980s…or in many cases, in the 1800s. Climate impacts are anticipated to add even more stress to our critical infrastructure.
While the federal government has passed the responsibility of water infrastructure to state and local governments not equipped to handle it, they have neither the manpower nor the money for the system upgrades, maintenance, and repairs that are required. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that we need more than $744 billion over a 20-year period for our water and wastewater infrastructure to meet federal water quality and safety requirements and public health objectives.
But there’s hope!
$1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)
The Biden Administration has recognized the crisis, spearheaded legislation to address infrastructure, and signed into law a $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). It includes $55 billion for water infrastructure and $47 billion for flooding and climate resiliency.
Included in the IIJA are provisions for the EPA to establish new grant programs that focus on providing assistance to specific communities, enhancing stormwater management, and improving resilience to natural hazards. For example, the IIJA adds a section to the Clean Water act that directs the EPA to establish a clean water infrastructure resilience and sustainability grant program. In most cases, the grants cover about 75% of total project costs; however, in some cases, e.g., low-income communities or in towns with less than 10,000 people, the cost share could be reduced to 10% or waived altogether. This portion of the IIJA authorizes appropriations of $25 million annually between 2022 and 2026. In addition, Section 220 of the Clean Water Act has been amended to include stormwater as eligible for pilot programs for alternative water source projects, again with appropriations of $25 million annually between 2022 and 2026.
Of course, the first step is to identify areas most at risk. For example, urban flooding is a growing source of significant economic loss, social disruption, and housing inequality nationwide; First Street Foundation found that 25% of all critical infrastructure and 23% of roads nationwide are at risk of flooding.
To address flooding, we need to know not only where it is happening but also why. Typical flood risk assessments use physical parameters, like elevation and proximity to water. Other assessments, like SURFR™, include physical parameters as well as social data, such as income, population density, and land use.
Solutions like SURFR™ can be used to:
- Prioritize capital improvement projects
- Identify vulnerable communities
- Incorporate flood warning systems to protect at-risk communities
- Choose areas for green infrastructure
- Preserve natural areas that mitigate flooding
- Educate citizens about local risk factors
Understanding where and why you have a problem is the first step; clarifying how you will fix it and what the benefit will be is the next step. Again, you can start with a model that helps identify overall alternatives and the benefit of each to your community.
Incorporating these analyses, as well as bringing in experts to design the solution and document its effectiveness, will simplify the funding process, and provide a level of security that the actions you take will make a difference, and that difference is absolutely worth every penny.