DMI Blog

Karin Dryhurst

Something in the Water

Now I know the Seattle P-I went online-only last March and lost a chunk of its staff, but this article shows what happens to reporting when metro papers have strained resources and reporters.

Seattle is launching a $500 million plan to improve water and sewer infrastructure over the next 15 years to comply with the Clean Water Act. In covering the plan, the reporter largely repackages the city press release and focuses on potential increases in water rates for Seattle residents.

Seattle Public Utilities will soon begin a federally-mandated, $500 million city-wide infrastructure improvement program designed to reduce storm and wastewater pollution. This will mean higher sewer and drainage bills for people, beginning next year, and for years afterwards.

Absent from the reporting is any mention of how these types of improvements have been funded since the Clean Water Act was passed in the early 70s or even how some projects have been funded by the $4 billion allotted to state clean water revolving funds. Instead, it sounds like the only option for cleaning up Seattle’s water is for consumers to put up the money for a top-down federal mandate.

The Puget Sound Business Journal, which covers the Seattle area, mentions that city officials are in negotiations with the EPA and the Washington State Department of Ecology which will determine the level of capital investments but doesn’t discuss where the money would come from.

A more comprehensive look at why some would call this a mandate would examine how federal funding for the Clean Water Act has changed over time. Initially, municipal CWA improvements were funded by grants, with up to 75 percent from the federal government and the rest from states. But dovetailing with the general federal disinvestment in cities over the last few decades, the federal proportion of these grants shrunk and then in the late 80s, funding transitioned into state revolving loan programs.

As with other progressive priorities, Congress and President Obama slipped a temporary fix into the stimulus bill by granting money to these state revolving loan funds, but like education and transit, a permanent funding solution for urban infrastructure remains to be seen.

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Posted at 4:59 PM, Jul 12, 2010 in Cities
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