Wastewater Utilities To Get Federal Boost for Upgrades
While still grappling with issues resulting from Superstorm Sandy's devastating blow, water and wastewater treatment plants in New York and New Jersey have made a slew of emergency and interim repairs in the last 16 months to keep operations online and systems running. Industry executives say that further work needs to be done, however, to make more permanent repairs and improve resiliency at these plants, most of which are low-lying and highly vulnerable to flooding in severe storms like Sandy.
To that end, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced one of the newest sources of funding for such work last year, a $569-million grant to New York and New Jersey, whose environmental infrastructure was hit hardest by the October 2012 storm. The funding, $340 million of which is earmarked for New York State and $229 million for New Jersey, will be awarded as grants to the states under their respective federal Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act State Revolving Fund programs.
The states, which are obligated to provide a 20% match to the federal funds, will offer loans with low or no interest to owners and operators of such public facilities. New York and New Jersey have submitted their respective intended-use plans to EPA and now await the agency's approval.
"The water and wastewater infrastructure needs to be rebuilt," says Ben Chou, a water policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Washington, D.C. "The funds are important to make sure these types of infrastructure are prepared for future storms." NRDC was one of many groups that submitted comments to each state on how EPA funding would best be spent.
While Sandy clobbered water systems from Washington, D.C., to Connecticut, it was New York and New Jersey that bore the brunt of the storm, accounting for 94% of the nearly 11 billion gallons of treated and untreated sewage that flowed into streets and waterways, said the nonprofit Climate Central in a study last April of how the storm compromised regional treatment plants (ENR New York, 6/10/2013, p. 25).
"No water treatment plant could have handled Sandy," says Peter Glus, business development director for New York City at Arcadis U.S. Inc. This includes the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission's (PVSC) Newark, N.J., facility, the nation's fifth-largest water treatment plant and New Jersey's largest, as well as the Bay Park wastewater treatment plant in Nassau County, N.Y. Both suffered significant power outages and flooding. "The plants that were impacted were submerged," he says. Arcadis and joint-venture partner Hazen & Sawyer won a three-year program management services contract at the Bay Park plant last October.
The EPA grant is aimed at remedying such failures by helping to fund upgrades and long-term resiliency measures. The funding is in addition to grants provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which has so far allocated just a portion of the billions planned for both states in post-Sandy rebuilding of critical infrastructure, including water and wastewater plants, says Robert Moore, senior policy analyst in NRDC's water program.
FEMA has been widely criticized as slow in allocating the funds. In New York, for example, it has allocated only $1 billion of the $10.9 billion for which the state was approved.
It is likely that more FEMA funds will be made available for drinking and wastewater treatment plants at some point, Moore says. "A lot of these monies were never designed to be deployed the first year but over time," he says. "Sometimes it takes some time to figure out how these dollars will best be spent."
A third source of funding for water infrastructure projects is the U.S. Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant program, which can be used for various types of projects, including long-term recovery work, infrastructure and housing restoration and economic revitalization, Moore says. New York has been approved for $15.2 billion in block grants but has so far been allocated only $3.8 billion, he adds.
Both FEMA and community block grant funds will be used for Sandy repairs and storm resiliency work at the Bay Park plant, the largest such facility in Nassau County, treating 58 million gallons per day and serving about 40% of its population. FEMA will provide at least $730 million to cover funding for the plant—its largest infrastructure award following Sandy—and New York State has committed to use $73 million in block grant funds.
The award is "a major victory" for the county's 550,000 residents," Cuomo said in a Jan. 11 statement. "The Bay Park Plant project has been a priority in our rebuilding process, and the state remains committed to helping Long Island reach its full recovery and to build back more resilient than before."
The Bay Park complex consists of about 50 buildings and structures spread across 50 acres. This translates into the plant being a highly concentrated, connected infrastructure in which one piece of equipment is dependent on other pieces to run, Glus says.
When Sandy hit and submerged parts of the plant in up to 5 ft of water, the four engine generators, which are slightly elevated, did not get wet. But the cooling water systems for the engines were submerged, he says. "They couldn't run the power because the engines weren't able to be cooled," Glus says. The power distribution system and substations were also submerged.