President’s Message—Infrastructure Priorities for OC
A tremendous thank you to Congressman Harley Rouda for assembling a panel to discuss Orange County infrastructure priorities. I appreciated the opportunity to speak on the future of water infrastructure for the Orange County Water District (OCWD; the District) so that we may continue to provide a reliable, high quality water supply to the 2.5 million people we serve.
The following are key points I shared as a panel member that day and they include the reasons why funding for water infrastructure is crucial to Orange County’s longevity:
- The Orange County Water District is an international leader in the potable reuse industry and is home to the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS). The GWRS is the world’s largest potable reuse facility, producing enough water for 850,000 people. A final expansion by 2023 will produce enough sustainable water for approximately one million people. That final expansion will cost approximately $292 million, for a total investment since 2008 of nearly $1 billion to increase local water supplies.
- OCWD board members and staff are some of the nation’s leading experts in developing drought-proof sustainable water supplies, maximizing groundwater recharge and protecting the water quality of the vast Orange County Groundwater Basin.
- Congress can help water infrastructure now and in the future through existing and new innovative financing approaches, such as federal infrastructure packages.
- Key programs include state revolving funds (SRF), which is a federal – state partnership, low interest loan program to support local communities’ construction of water and wastewater infrastructure.
- OCWD is delighted that Congressman Rouda is co-sponsoring the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2019 H.R. 1497 because it provides more authorization for appropriations for state revolving funds.
- The District asks that Congress prioritize funding this critical tool of SRF low-interest loans and keep appropriations at a minimum of historic levels of $3 billion per year.
- We acknowledge that this is a tough ask, but the allocation formula of SRF funds needs to be updated to better reflect the current census data and actual needs of states. The old formula does not account for California’s current population. OCWD used $135 million SRF loans for the original GWRS project, $145 million of SRF funds for phase one expansion and is using $167 million for the final expansion. SRF accounted for 48% of the entire $944 million project cost of the GWRS. Without low-interest loan financing, the project probably would not have been built.
- The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) is another sound, low-interest loan used by local communities that should be maintained. OCWD recently secured a $135 million WIFIA loan to help finance the $292 million final GWRS expansion.
- Federal grants such as Title XVI are also key. If Congress hadn’t authorized a $20 million Title XVI grant for the GWRS in 1996, the project would not have benefited from the same level of local acceptance and leveraging of additional state funding.
- OCWD is also a supporter of legislation before Congress now - the Water Recycling Investment and Improvement Act, H.R. 1162, (Napolitano) that would reinvigorate the Title XVI water recycling program.
- As part of Orange County Water District’s commitment to providing a reliable and sustainable water supply to Orange County, it is exploring ocean desalination. If the project comes to fruition, the District would ask that Congress provide funding for such projects in infrastructure legislation.
- Congress must at all costs preserve the use of tax-exempt financing of our water infrastructure.
We look forward to continuing to work with Congressman Rouda, his staff and the entire Orange County Congressional delegation to help advance OCWD’s water infrastructure projects that seek to increase long-term water reliability in Orange County. We appreciate the Congressman’s focus on the important issue of water and we are delighted that he and his staff have toured the GWRS to learn about water reuse and the vital role OCWD plays in providing water reliability for the region.
Vicente Sarmiento, Esq.