During a presentation last month outlining some of the work done by the Biden administration, 2022 was described as “the year of water,” in Washington, D.C.
And, while the term may be corny and a bit self-serving, it’s not a bad description of what has happened in Washington this last year. It is certainly true from a funding standpoint. This year saw the largest investment from D.C. in our country’s water infrastructure in the last fifty years.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Acts, passed into law in November 2021, for example, saw more than $80 billion dollars allocated to water infrastructure and water remediation projects. This included close to $10 billion dollars to address the PFAS (Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) contamination and the largest investment into supporting water reuse and groundwater storage in U.S (United States). history.
But Congress and the Biden administration weren’t done there. They would also go on to invest another $25 billion dollars into the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers’ civilian water projects through the Water Resources Development Act and $4 billion dollars to support drought relief in the Inflation Reduction Act.
The year of water, indeed.
While most of us who think about water every day were supportive of these investments, the political landscape of course got a bit rockier when the administration began tugging on the regulatory levers.
2022, by federal government standards, saw fast actions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) towards reaching its goal of a national PFAS drinking water standard by 2023. It also saw the EPA continue its push to create a more “durable” definition of Waters of the United States, which are waters deemed to be under federal jurisdiction.
The year also included a host of new regulations outside of the EPA that immediately impact the water industries, such as new requirements for truck drivers to obtain commercial driver’s licenses and stricter manufacturing and emission guidelines.
These regulations were met with the usual mix of cheers and jeers from those who felt they did not go far enough to protect the environment and others who felt they were being put in place too soon and ultimately harmed businesses and utilities.
So, why was 2022 “the year of water,” and what comes next? The why, to some extent, is simple to answer: one-party control of the White House and Congress and a country with a crumbling water infrastructure that could no longer be ignored.
What comes next is where things get interesting. While infrastructure improvement is here for the foreseeable future, the one-party rule of Congress and the White House could be over in 2023.
While this divide in power will likely slow major aspects of the legislative process and create more tension on vital pieces of legislation such as the farm bill.
In fact, The Water Resources Development Act, mentioned earlier in this column, passed both the house and senate with huge bipartisan margins, and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act always enjoyed support from both sides of the aisle. Plus, many of those who ultimately voted against this spending bill were largely supportive of the water provisions.
But there will certainly be points of contention, especially in the regulatory and judicial arenas, specifically regarding the Waters of The United States.
As professionals in the water industry though, I feel it is our obligation, no matter the political climate, to do everything possible to remind our lawmakers and government officials that water should not be viewed through a political lens. Access to clean water is a basic human right that must be bigger than partisan divides and the outcome of the last election of the cycle.
While this may seem like a fantasy to think we could ever view anything as important as water through a nonpartisan lens, we owe it to ourselves and the world to keep trying. Because the world may be forced to live with politics, but it certainly cannot live without water.