Schumer calls for boost in funding to fix NY’s aging sewer systems

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer recently, on a press conference call, criticized the recent budget request that would slash funding for over 340 critical, and often mandated, sewer upgrades in New York, calling it an unacceptable hit to local budgets, property taxes, the environment and New York’s aging infrastructure.

Specifically, the Administration’s FY2015 budget request cuts funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, through the Environmental Protection Agency, by $430 million, which translates to an about $40 million cut for New York alone.

There are over 340 sewer projects in Upstate New York and Long Island that have pending applications for such funding in 2014 alone, with hundreds more waiting to be funded in future years. Schumer called on his colleagues on the Senate Appropriations committee to provide level or increased funding for the overall sewer program, especially since the program is already woefully underfunded due to a steady decrease in its budget over the past few years – over $600 million since FY2010. Schumer is fighting to stop that trend in its tracks.

Schumer today also revealed that the Clean Water grant program, pioneered by Schumer in the stimulus legislation, which allows states to use a portion of the CWSRF as direct grants instead of loans, has decreased New York’s share from a high of $112 million in 2010, to just $10 million in 2013. Schumer today introduced a proposal that would allow States to utilize a 50 percent grant option of their total funding, rather than the current 20 percent.

“New York has some of the oldest sewer systems in the country, and we should be doing everything in our power to provide the funding that is needed to repair and upgrade them,” Schumer said. “Unfortunately, the budget request released by the Administration earlier this month cuts funding where it’s sorely needed, making it extremely difficult for New York’s cities and towns to make long overdue – and often mandated – upgrades to their sewer systems. A cut in federal funding could jack up water utility bills, and could jeopardize the ability to complete projects that are already underway or soon to get started. Investing in our water and wastewater infrastructure is absolutely essential in order to attract businesses to our urban, suburban and rural communities, and I am going to fight hard to make sure New York gets its fair share of infrastructure dollars so we can continue to make these much needed repairs.”

On the call, Schumer unveiled a list of pending 2014 sewer project applications for CWSRF funding to demonstrate demand in New York. Schumer said that if sufficient funding for these key programs is not held at current levels or increased, sewer systems throughout the state could fall into further disrepair, creating another pressure on local property taxes.

Included in this list were applications from the villages of Silver Creek, Brocton and Westfield, the towns of Hanover and Mina and Chautauqua County.

Schumer has long pushed for federal aid to repair New York’s aging sewer systems, among the oldest in the country, because each dollar invested helps to create jobs, repair crumbling water and wastewater infrastructure, and protect public health and environmental quality. The proposal outlined by Schumer would maintain or increase the existing funding level of $1.45 billion nationally and increase the optional grant amount from 20 percent to 50 percent. This would, at a minimum, maintain New York’s total sewer appropriation at $155 million and allow over $77 million of that to be used as grant.