Planning & Policy

Although the groundwork for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure (W&WI) investment and construction in the United States was laid in the early 1900s, W&WI greatly expanded during the 1970s with the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972. The federal government provided capital improvement grants (later converted to a loan program) to state and local governments for construction and improvement of W&WI, though its share has gradually reduced, all the while needs continue to increase. In the absence of robust federal support for W&WI over the past decades, state governments  have  stepped  up  their  support  through  grants/loans,  bonds,  taxes  and other means, though they have been unable to close the funding gap.

WRI publications

Vedachalam, S.; Kay, D.L.; Riha, S.J. 2014. Capital investment and privatization: Public opinion on issues related to water and wastewater infrastructure. Public Works Management & Policy, 19(2):118-147 [link].

Level of cocern for water
Level of concern for water/sewer infrastructure

Water and wastewater infrastructure (W&WI) in the United States is in need of immediate capital investments. Support from the federal government has declined significantly in the past two decades, forcing state and local governments to contribute a larger share. With increased decentralization  of  infrastructure  decision  making, public  opinion  is  playing  an  ever  greater  role.  Questions  on  capital  investment, privatization,  and  concern  for  W&WI  were  part  of  a  national  omnibus  survey  of 1,000 respondents in the United States conducted in 2012. Party affiliation was a significant explanatory variable on all three survey questions.  Other demographic variables proved occasionally important, but less consistently significant as explanatory variables. The results of opinion polls, combined with preferences revealed by voting and purchasing behavior, can provide policymakers a broad understanding of public support for various W&WI policy alternatives. An informed electorate and a responsive government can together address complex challenges facing the water and wastewater sector in the country.


Funded projects

David Kay, Cornell University: Hudson water and sewer smart growth infrastructure.

The Smart Growth Public Infrastructure Act went into effect in New York on September 29, 2010. It requires most state agencies and authorities to prepare and file a Smart Growth Impact Statement prior to approving or funding any public infrastructure project. This project will analyze the extent and manner in which the Act is being implemented by state agencies. In addition, the project will include a variety of mini-case studies of major expenditures of state funding on water or sewer infrastructure to evaluate the extent and nature of the expenditures’ consistency with the ten smart growth criteria articulated in the Act. As of 2013, many, but not all, key agencies were working diligently to implement the Act. Some have issued and implemented detailed guidance documents, while others have taken a more ad-hoc approach to implementation.

Tiffany Zezula, Pace University: Land use leadership alliance training program: Integrating watershed protection into land use decisions.

Novel outreach methods need to be created that enhance the communication and regional dialogue regarding watershed protection and preservation.  This includes communicating science-based  information  to  local  decision-makers  about  ways  to  manage  and  conserve water  resources  and  increasing  their  understanding  regarding  the  correlation  between proper land use planning and watershed management. This project organized a targeted Land Use Leadership Alliance Training (LULA) program for selected individuals in the Hudson Valley watershed. The LULA training program helps a group of 35-40 local leaders understand land use, decision-making and methods for building community consensus for sustainable development initiatives. Pace University worked closely with Cornell University’s Community and Regional Development Institute (CARDI) the Hudson River Estuary Program staff to design and execute this program.