In 2021, Maria Lehman, the president-elect of the American Society of Civil Engineers, said, "You can't build a healthy economy on a crumbling infrastructure." The association grades roads, internet access, rail, water, and more every four years. Grades rarely rise above a D. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is here to help, providing more than $1 trillion in spending, $550 billion of which is new federal funding to be allocated over the next five years.
When the scope is so huge, it's hard to get your head around it, but when an ancient pipe breaks and hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands of people are without water — when your own home is without water — aging infrastructure is a painful reality.
Communities, large and small, are lining up to compete for desperately needed funding for water, wastewater, and stormwater projects.
That trillion dollars will spread thinly over the substantial infrastructure needs of every community in the nation. Across Texas, local governments are dusting off their shovel-ready plans to apply for IIJA funding. Large communities with sufficient resources typically have the human and financial resources to work through the system. While small communities usually don't have sufficient financial or human resources to work the system on their own, that doesn't mean they can't compete.
Critically, money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) can be used by small communities to acquire essential technical assistance, not just for IIJA applications.
This funding can be used to receive technical assistance from system management through technology upgrades, operations, and beyond. Moreover, there is funding set aside specifically for smaller, rural communities, and Texas is looking at a way for small communities to collaborate, making them more competitive for funding.
Government Utilities Authority (GUA)
Texas is also exploring our small water systems as a new kind of collaboration — Government Utilities Authority (GUA). Anser Advisory has authorities in Texas for all types of services, including water, but this approach is one that Florida has successfully used for over 25 years. Currently, the GUA in Florida serves 120,000 customers in 14 counties through 97 systems. A GUA can be tailored to whatever the member governments want. The board of the GUA is comprised of senior staff from those governments that choose to have representation — not all do. Overhead is managed because all staff and services are contracted, so the GUA only pays for what it needs and uses. While the organizational structure is collaborative, each system's finances are separate. A GUA allows small communities to be more competitive for federal funding.
It's no secret that communities large and small have aging infrastructure. The need is great, and it is time to prepare applications for Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funding. Now is the time for small, rural communities to invest in ARPA funding to get the technical assistance necessary to prepare their systems for sustainability and reliability.
Visit waterworks4texas.com today to learn more.
About the Author
Water Policy Consultant, Anser Advisory
Rubinstein is an expert on Texas water policy. As chairperson of the Texas Water Development Board (2013-2015) he oversaw the implementation of the $2 billion State Water Infrastructure Fund. (SWIFT). He is a Board Member of the Texas Water Foundation and the Texas Water Trade. Rubinstein has served as the Texas representative to the Western States Water Council, and the Border Governors' Conference Sustainable Development worktable. Rubinstein served as a commissioner of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) from 2009–2013. He is a former deputy executive director of TCEQ and Rio Grande Watermaster. Rubinstein has appeared as an expert witness on various environmental cases and has published several peer-reviewed articles on Texas water policy. He is a former city manager for the City of Brownsville. Rubinstein earned a bachelor's degree in biology from Pan American University.