Twelve water projects have made the initial cut in a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program and have been invited to file applications for loans under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, or WIFIA.

In announcing the 12 projects on July 19, EPA noted that they are located in nine states. California leads the way with four projects, in Orange County, San Diego, San Francisco, and Morro Bay.

The invitees were selected from 43 that submitted letters of interest to EPA for the first-ever WIFIA loans.

They represent a range of water infrastructure types—two are wastewater treatment, three are water recycling, three are for sewer overflow, two are for drinking water and one is for a state revolving fund.

In addition, one invitee, the city of Baltimore, is requesting a loan for wastewater treatment, drinking water and stormwater-management infrastructure.

In all, agencies that sponsored the 12 projects are seeking about $2.3 billion in loans. The projects’ total costs are $5.1 billion.

Adam Krantz, National Association of Clean Water Agencies CEO, says that WIFIA is “another tool in the toolbox for public and private utilities…as a way to get some significant levels of funding more cheaply than maybe they can in the open market.” 

Krantz says that the WIFIA requests underscore that in wastewater, drinking water and water-resource recovery, “Obviously there are big needs that are out there.”

Tommy Holmes, American Water Works Association legislative director, says his group has been working on the idea of federal water infrastructure loans for about six years. "We're very excited to see this big step," he says.

Holmes says AWWA sees WIFIA as a complementary program to the long-standing state revolving fund (SRF) for drinking-water infrastructure . He adds, "It's going to do projects beyond the traditional size and scope of the SRF."

EPA notes that being invited to apply doesn’t guarantee that a project will receive a loan. The agency has said that its 2017 WIFIA funding will allow it to issue loans totaling about $1.5 billion.

The largest loan request came from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which is seeking a $625-million WIFIA loan to help finance a $1.3-billion upgrade to a wastewater-treatment facility.

The smallest of the 12 loan requests was $22 million, from Oak Ridge, Tenn., which plans to design and build a new drinking-water treatment plant, whose overall cost is estimated at $45 million.

Congress established WIFIA in 2014 but didn’t appropriate funds to make loans until fiscal 2017, when it approved $25 million for the program.

WIFIA is modeled on the 19-year-old Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, or TIFIA, program, administered by the Dept. of Transportation. As of Dec. 31, 2015, DOT’s TIFIA portfolio totaled $22.8 billion in federal loans and other credit assistance.

Story correction on 7/25/17: name of organization that requested the largest loan is San Francisco Public Utilities Commission