New Census Estimates Reveal Local Governments Invested a Record $125.5 Billion in Municipal Water and Sewer Infrastructure and Services in 2017

Washington, DC – Local government invested a record $125.5 billion in municipal water and sewer systems in 2017 according to the latest estimates released by the U.S. Census. The data demonstrates that local governments are making significant investments to upgrade and operate their water and sewer systems, provide basic service and achieve national clean and safe water goals. Local government relies on customer fees to generate the revenues needed to accomplish these goals, and the federal government has retreated from providing financial assistance.

While 2017 saw record-level investment in water and sewer infrastructure and services, gaps remain in the funding needed for increased investment to rehabilitate an aging infrastructure and manage expanding federal and state mandates.

“Local governments are responsible for 95% to 98% of total water and sewer utility infrastructure spending each year,” said Tom Cochran, CEO and Executive Director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “The data shows that cities are doing their part, and now it’s time for the Congress and the Administration to do theirs through policies that increase federal financial assistance and regulatory flexibility. Mayors stand ready to work with Congress and the Administration to meet the challenges our country faces due to crumbling water and wastewater infrastructure.”

“Spending by local government on clean water and drinking water dwarfs the contribution made by the Federal government, who drives up cost with hundreds of unfunded mandates. Local government spending is only made possible by charging fees to local customers. Spending trends have reached the limits of what is affordable for many families and individuals and raises fundamental concerns about equity,” said Vice Chair of USCM’s Environment Standing Committee and Lima, Ohio Mayor David J. Berger.

Key findings from the census data include: (Click here to see full report)

  • Local government investment in water and sewer totals over $2.12 trillion from 1993 to 2017, while Congressional investments during this period totaled less than $70 billion, mostly in the form of loans to local government.
  • Combined water and sewer investments reached a record high at $125.5 billion in 2017.
  • The average annual growth in investment for combined public water and sewer was roughly 4.3% in the 25-year period 1993-2017, but recent trends are lower:
    • Sewer investment increased at a rate of 4.1% annually from 1993-2017.
      • Since 2012 the average annual investment was a sluggish 0.8%
    • Water investment increased at a rate of 4.5% annually from 1993-2017.
      • Since 2012 the average annual water investment increased only 2.5%

(Click here to see slide deck)

Earlier this year, the Conference developed five infrastructure priorities for the 116th Congress.  The plan focuses on transportation, water, energy, and community development infrastructure along with tax reform around local infrastructure investment. The plan calls for a number of changes to modernize America’s water and wastewater systems, including:

  • Raise SRF grants substantially: Divide $92 billion evenly between drinking water and sewer/wastewater; distributing all new funding through existing SRF formulas; provide 50 percent of the new funds as grants (or as much as 100 percent) to be targeted to disadvantaged communities for improvements including projects and programs addressing lead in drinking water; at least 30 percent of the new funds in the form of no-interest loans; and eliminate the current local/state matching fund requirement.
  • Provide new funding for Technical Assistance for Cybersecurity and Resiliency: Direct $12 billion in grants to local government to undertake planning/feasibility studies and capital investments to combat cybersecurity threats and to improve system resiliency from natural disasters.
  • Reduce the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers backlog: Direct $21 billion in new funding to attack the growing backlog of flood protection and levee improvement projects.