Stormy Weather

Stormwater sector falls short on funding; awaits infrastructure package

When snow melts, who handles the runoff, drainage, filtering…who essentially cleans up the mess?

As the country restores power and hope following a nationwide cold snap, folks in the stormwater sector await a federal infrastructure package with nervous stomachs. While higher-profile sectors get mass attention in relation to the environment (think renewables and EVs), water infrastructure is getting overlooked. Wastewater management is a legitimate form of “environmental consciousness” if you will, and falls within the sustainability realm. Stormwater is basically its cousin.

Yet the U.S. stormwater sector faces an estimated $8.5 billion annual funding gap, according to a survey by the Water Environment Federation (WEF). The funding shortfall exists as municipalities nationwide work to maintain water infrastructure, control pollution in waterways, and protect communities from flooding. Methods include retention ponds, permeable pavement, even traffic innovations:

“The stormwater infrastructure that is vital to the health of our communities and our environment is in desperate need of increased and sustained investment,” said WEF President Lynn Broaddus. “Stormwater infrastructure is an integral part of our overall water infrastructure and it is imperative that it be included in any infrastructure package developed by the Biden Administration and Congress.”

The funding gap was identified in WEF’s 2020 National Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Needs Assessment Survey and based on data collected from more than 800 systems in 47 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

Municipal governments annually spend an estimated $18 billion to $24 billion on stormwater infrastructure and programs. The 2020 annual funding gap of $8.5 billion is a 10 percent increase over the funding gap identified in WEF’s 2018 survey.

Current modes of funding for the sector include the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, new EPA Sewer Overflow & Stormwater Municipal Reuse Grant, and Water Infrastructure Financing & Innovation Act (WIFIA).

In addition to the funding gap, stormwater systems have cited aging infrastructure and increasing regulations as challenges. Many of these systems also reported needing assistance with technical resources for financing, asset management, and watershed-based planning.

The WEF survey is accompanied by a new online tool that can be used to filter data by permittee type, geographic region, and other characteristics. This information can improve understanding of the challenges, needs, and drivers for stormwater programs.

“Stormwater is one of the fastest growing sources of water pollution in many waterways across the U.S.,” WEF continued in a statement. “Pressure on stormwater systems will continue to grow as nearly 70 percent of the U.S. population shifts to urban areas by 2050, and climate change leads to an increase in droughts in some areas and more frequent and intense storms in others.”

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