How Will The 2021 Fiscal Year Budget Impact Drinking Water?


Analies Dyjak, M.A.  |  Policy Nerd

The release of the 2021 Fiscal Year Budget sparked a ton of concern regarding how drinking water programs are funded in the United States. The new budget proposes significant cuts to programs and grants that help to ensure safe drinking water for millions of American’s. Although jarring, we weren't surprised by the proposals because funding for drinking water programs has been a decreasing for decades. 

Public Vs. Private Drinking Water

90% of U.S. drinking water is controlled by public water suppliers. Public supplies is further categorized into public water utilities and privately owned companies. Service rates are comparable for both, so oftentimes ratepayers don't have a preference. The major difference is that privately owned water companies don't rely on federal funding like public utilities do. Public utilities rely on federal and state funding to deliver safe water to residents. Additionally, private wells do not fall into either of these two categories. The federal government is not responsible for testing, monitoring, or treating private well water. 

Public Funds For Water-Related Projects Have Been Decreasing For Years

According to a report by the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA), 66% of state drinking water expenses is funded by the federal government. That means that over half of the budget used by states to implement the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) comes from the federal government. The report also claims that in recent years, state general funds for drinking water have decreased 43% nationally. So... If both pots of money are gradually getting smaller and smaller, where is the funding coming from? The short answer is that it’s not necessarily being supplemented by anywhere else, and state and local taxes/fees are not robust enough to fully support these programs.

The federal government is responsible for providing significant funding to help states implement the SDWA. Two major federal programs make up 66% of all state drinking water expenses: 41% of funds come from Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, and 25% come from the Public Water System Supervision program (PWSS). The remaining 34% of funds comes from utility fees and local taxes. Public water utilities are so reliant on federal funding because regulations are enforced on a national scale. Agencies force communities to meet certain standards, so providing some sort of assistance is definitely crucial. It's almost equivalent to forcing someone to purchase a brand new car without giving them any money.

By far, the largest threat to drinking water systems are the proposed cuts to a program called Public Water System Supervision (PWSS). This programs helps states and tribes implement the National Primary Drinking Water Standards (NPDWS), and is often used for communities struggling to meet compliance. In the case of NPDWS, compliance means that a certain percent of regulated contaminants in removed from the distribution system. The regulated contaminants are those that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified as harmful to human health. In recent years, the federal budget for the PWSS program has been $101 million annually. The current proposal will cut the program by $37 million. The Association for State Drinking Water Administrators has determined that the budget needs to be upwards of $308 million in order to effetely carry out the goals of the program. Without funding from PWSS, poor communities will become exposed to harmful contaminants. 

An Insufficient Proposed Budget To Tackle PFAS

Per and Polyfluoralkyl Substances (PFAS) have been linked to various health effects, including cancer. At the beginning of 2019, EPA created the PFAS Action Plan to help address PFAS contamination on a national level. The Action Plan, although vague, will aim to develop Maximum Contaminants Levels (MCLs), groundwater remediation, and promulgate Significant New Use Rules (SNURs) for various PFAS variations. According to EPA's 2021 FY budget, the agency is only requesting $6 million to achieve the PFAS Action Plan. A budget of $6 million doesn’t even begin to address remediation or compensation. Settlements across the country have been taking place to try clean up pollution and compensate individuals who have become sick as a result of contaminated drinking water. For a bit of perspective as to why $6 million isn't nearly enough... 3M and the state of Minnesota settled for $850 million, for damages regarding PFAS pollution in drinking water. 

Proposed Cuts To Other Crucial Drinking Water Programs

The proposed budget reduces Human Health and Environmental Risk Assessment by 20%. HERA is a research program which supports research between environmental exposures and health impacts. It supports research projects that determine how toxic chemicals in our drinking water impact human health.

The almost 50% cut to the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) will impact both large and small communities. WIFIA grants are used to help communities deliver water more efficiently, prevent droughts, implement water reuse, and update general infrastructure projects. 

What Does This Mean For Your Water? 

The analysis by the ASDWA concluded that the already small budget has made it extremely difficult to carry out the responsibilities of the Safe Drinking Water Act and protect the public from health impacts. The impacts will be further extrapolated if the 2021 FY Budget is implemented. However, what do these budget cuts means for you and your drinking water? The ASDWA report laid out a few critical impacts that an insufficient budget can have on a public drinking water utility: 

  • Constrained budget for sampling of contaminants
  • Canceled or modified water-security assistance
  • The use of outdated laboratory instrumentation and technologies
  • Inability to meet compliance with SDWA

The indirect impacts listed above weaken a utilities ability to reliably deliver safe water to its residents. Without basic necessities, it’s difficult to be confident in the the quality of the water you’re providing to residents. 

Our Take:

As the dust settles and federal and state governments try to figure out how to fund water utility providers, it’s important for residents to understand what’s in their drinking water and how to protect themselves from contamination. Even if you don’t purchase a filter from us, we think it’s important for people to understand what’s going on with funding for drinking water programs. We hope that to spread this information and advocate for increased funding for programs that are crucial to protecting public health.

Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy: 
How Will Changes To WOTUS Impact Your Drinking Water?
Municipal Drinking Water Compliance: What You Need To Know
What Is "Safe" Drinking Water?
Previous Post Next Post