where possible, accelerate the pace to avoid catastrophic failures such
as residents had seen on national media.
3) A Water Capacity Fee Study—Because residents were concerned that wa-ter
system improvements were aimed at growth and new development
would not be paying its fair share, the city authorized a fee study to assess
the adequacy of fees and charges and ensure fair distribution of costs.
4) Reducing Rates—The city identified strategies already underway to re-duce
program costs and spread these over five years instead of four
and committed to pursuing additional funding opportunities includ-ing
State Revolving Funds.
5) Affordability and Equity. The staff recommended initial lower month-ly
costs for the lowest water users and committed to a rate schedule
based on use. Costs would be added more slowly than in the previous-ly
approved plan, and an assistance program would help those with
Step 8: Continue Communication (Ongoing). On February 26, 2015, the
City Council authorized the Proposition 218 process and subsequently ap-proved
the revised rate structure.
A year after the forums ended, the council approved $158 million to
develop and construct the 80 MGD water treatment facility, the corner-stone
of the Recharge Fresno infrastructure improvement, scheduled for
a 2018 completion, plus additional projects already underway. Because
residents need access to information on project status and milestones
and the importance of securing Fresno’s water future more than ever,
outreach and public participation continues to claim a critical seat at the
planning table. S
28 SOURCE winter 2016
WIFIA, Continued from page 23
making local funds stretch further and accelerating water infrastructure
improvements. Because like TIFIA, WIFIA is strictly a loan program, in the
long run, it promised to be budget neutral, and in addition, both programs
allow leveraging of federal dollars appropriated based on the credit risk of
In TIFIA, every dollar appropriated by Congress results in $10 being loaned
out. The TIFIA program’s ability to leverage additional sources of investment,
including tax-exempt bonds, has been fundamental to its success: a federal in-vestment
of less than $2 billion has backed more than $19 billion in low-cost
TIFIA loans and spurred $72 billion in surface transportation improvements
nationwide. The water sector is even more creditworthy. The historical default
rate of water utilities is 0.04 percent, and almost all of those in default work their
way out in a couple of years. Therefore, the potential leverage rate for WIFIA,
by some estimates, has been up to 33:1 ($33 dollars loaned out for a dollar ap-propriated).
The leverage rate will likely be evaluated for each project applying.
The Door Opens
When Congress began deliberations on a long-term surface transportation
bill, AWWA and the informal water coalition saw an opportunity. U.S. Sen.
Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on En-vironment
& Public Works, had shepherded the original WIFIA legislation
through the Senate and wasn’t happy with the ban on tax-free financing. She
led efforts to include the WIFIA correction in the Senate’s version of the trans-portation
bill. U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, Chair of the Subcommittee on Wa-ter
Resources and Environment, who had championed the WIFIA legislation
in the House of Representatives, also wanted the correction. While the House
version of the bill did not contain the WIFIA fix (because of concerns that WI-FIA
might be ruled non-germane to the House text) he kept pushing. When a
House-Senate conference convened to produce a compromise bill, Rep. Gibbs
let it be known that fixing WIFIA was one of his priorities.
Going into the 2015 Thanksgiving holidays, WIFIA’s fate remained in
limbo. AWWA grassroots members were diligent in calling, e-mailing and
meeting with their members of Congress serving on the conference commit-tee.
One eleventh hour wrinkle appeared when a private concern lobbying
Capitol Hill argued that WIFIA should be used primarily to support private
investment in water systems.
On November 30, 2015, the House-Senate conference produced a single
transportation bill that included the WIFIA correction, and on December 2015,
the White House press office announced that President Obama would sign
the legislation. The House approved the bill 359-65 the afternoon of December
3, 2015, and the Senate approved it by a vote of 83-16. As debate began, Rep.
Gibbs went to the floor of the full House to reiterate the need to correct WIFIA.
Now that WIFIA is Fixed
WIFIA was authorized to receive $20 million in fiscal year 2015, $25 mil-lion
in 2016, $35 million in 2017, $45 million in 2018, and $50 million in 2019,
but so far Congress has only appropriated $2.2 million for USEPA to set
up the program, and no money has been appropriated for WIFIA to make
actual loans. Appropriators maintain they want to be sure that the agency
is ready to implement the program, but based on our discussions, the EPA
staff appears to be well down the road to implementation. AWWA and oth-ers
have been talking to Congress about this, but the overall federal budget
debate has become partisan and contentious.
AWWA’s Water Utility Council (WUC) and government affairs staff have
been impressed and gratified with the tremendous support and hard work
AWWA members have shown in the WIFIA campaign. AWWA members have
full-time jobs and family lives, and consequently, the amount of time and ener-gy
they showed in advocating for WIFIA and its correction has been amazing. S