What the federal infrastructure bill means for Minnesota's waters

by Trevor Russell

As you have no doubt heard, Congress passed a long-awaited Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which President Biden signed into law on November 15, 2021.

The bill allocates federal funds to enhance critical infrastructure like roads and bridges, broadband, airports, public transit, electric vehicles, Great Lakes restoration, and water infrastructure.

One of the key goals of the bill is to deliver clean water to all American families and eliminate the nation's lead service lines. We wrote last month about our coalition's advocacy at the state and national levels for this critical need.

Currently, up to 10 million American households, along with 400,000 schools and childcare centers, lack safe drinking water. According to the White House, the infrastructure bill will invest $55 billion to expand access to clean drinking water for households, businesses, schools and childcare centers all across the country.

Overall, the White House indicates the bill will make unprecedented investments in water and water infrastructure nationally. According to our national allies, here are the water-related figures in the bill:

  • Lead service line replacement: $15 billion through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund over five years, specifically for lead service line replacement. This includes a more generous federal match ratio, making it easier for states to leverage federal funds.
  • Drinking Water State Revolving Fund & Clean Water State Revolving Fund: The bill invests $14.65 billion over five years to these funds, a significant increase over current levels.
  • The bill also appropriates additional supplemental funding for each program. This money will be distributed in addition to (and independent of) the regular annual appropriations process described above. These additive funds include $19.9 billion over five years to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, and $17.3 billion over five years for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.
  • PFAS remediation: The bill includes $9 billion in cleanup and remediation for these forever chemicals through three different funding streams, including $1 billion through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund over five years, $4 billion through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund over five years, and $5 billion through the Small and Disadvantaged Communities drinking water program over five years.

The bill also includes $1 billion in supplemental appropriations for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), a major investment in a critically important freshwater resource. This is especially exciting to us because bipartisan support for GLRI funding bodes well for our parallel effort to establish a GLRI-inspired Mississippi River Restoration & Resilience Initiative (MRRRI) that we hope to move through Congress in 2022. 

Minnesota-specific investments

Overall, Minnesota is in line for about $6.8 billion in federal infrastructure funds. While the majority of that will go towards transportation-related investments, Minnesota stands to make considerable investments in water infrastructure.

The state is expected to receive $680 million over five years to improve water infrastructure across the state and ensure clean, safe drinking water in all communities. However, that figure may be adjusted over five years, as the specifics of each individual funding process may vary.

A note on lock and dam issues

FMR and some of our local and national partners will also be submitting a letter asking the Army Corps of Engineers to fund comprehensive disposition studies for the Lower St. Anthony Falls lock and dam and the Ford dam (officially known as Lock and Dam #1)" out of the Corps' allocations in the bill.

While the timeline and prognosis for that request is uncertain at this time, we'll be sure to keep FMR readers updated through our River Corridor blog.

Looking ahead

Many of the programs mentioned in this article have a state match associated with them, meaning that the state must invest some portion of our record $7.7 billion state budget surplus for the second half of the current biennium to maximize federal match dollars.

FMR and our allies will be working hard to ensure that our state makes the allocations we need this legislative session to secure the maximum possible federal investment in Minnesota's water resources.

Sign up to become a River Guardian so you can make your voice heard on issues like these. River Guardians are also invited to special events, including happy hours, to learn more about important legislative and metro river corridor issues.

Keep up to date

We write regular updates about key environment and water quality issues on our Water and Legislative Updates blog and share them on social media (Facebook and Twitter) and in our e-newsletter, Mississippi Messages.