Rarely have Arizonans had more reason to be aware of their water during “Water Awareness Month” than in 2016.
There is that nagging, lingering drought hovering over the Southwest. We are intimately aware of El Nino’s disappointing failure to deliver on its promise of a drenching winter.
As it happened, though, it was another water story that has commanded the attention of people coast to coast, including Arizonans this spring: The tragic drinking-water disaster facing Flint, Mich., where the local water system has been polluted with shocking levels of lead.
One ratings system estimated that the cost to replace lead pipes in American drinking-water systems could approach $300 billion. It is not just Flint that has issues with lead-tainted drinking water.
And that would constitute only the starting point. A recent report from the American Water Works Association estimated that the overall tab for replacing and upgrading U.S. drinking-water infrastructure over the next 25 years could reach $1 trillion.
Every state has infrastructure challenges. As it happens, though, Arizona has a valuable tool that for 26 years has helped communities statewide finance this state’s water-infrastructure improvements, water-conservation efforts and energy-efficiency projects.
The state’s little-known Water Infrastructure Financing Authority provides low-cost financing for communities looking to improve their drinking-water and wastewater capacity. Last year, 30 WIFA-funded projects totaling more than $56 million were completed around Arizona. It also helps pay for “green” projects like streambed restoration and forest-thinning.
All told, the financing authority has helped Arizona communities invest more than $2 billion since it was created in 1989 by a bipartisan vote of the state Legislature.
WIFA is a “bond bank” – a finance agency that is authorized to offer qualifying projects below-market interest rates with no closing costs. Typically, financing a project through WIFA can lower the project’s interest costs to between 70 percent and 95 percent of WIFA’s tax-exempt cost of borrowing. Funding is provided to WIFA through the federal Environmental Protections Agency.
Water Resources deputy director Lynne Smith sits on the board of WIFA as the ADWR director’s designee.
Just this fiscal year alone, WIFA has helped finance the city of Douglas’ $25 million wastewater collection system expansion and upgrade – a critical infrastructure improvement in drought-plagued southeastern Arizona, which is highly reliant on groundwater pumping.
The previous year, WIFA helped arrange $25 million in financing for a water-reclamation system expansion in Casa Grande, a $16 million improvement of Prescott’s water infrastructure and a $300,000 water-treatment facility in Humbolt that helps lower arsenic and nitrates to acceptable levels.