The Environmental Protection Agency has broken new ground in the latest loans it cleared under its Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, or WIFIA, program. The agency on Aug. 19 announced it had approved two loans totaling $640 million for a $1.3-billion upgrade for water infrastructure in northern Oregon. It marks the first time EPA has issued loans to multiple borrowers for the same project.
A $388-million WIFIA loan is going to the Tualatin Valley Water District and a $251-million loan to the city of Hillsboro, Ore., which have teamed up on the project. Andrea Watson, spokesperson for the water district, says its loan closed on Aug. 2 and the Hillsboro loan closed on Aug. 16. The city of Beaverton, Ore., on July 1 signed on as a third partner in the project but isn’t involved in the loans.
Other multi-loan WIFIA approvals might follow. Tommy Holmes, American Water Works Association legislative director, doesn’t expect multiple loans to “dominate” WIFIA in the future. He points out that the Oregon project involves a water agency and municipalities that draw from the same water source, in this case, the mid-Willamette River. “But it may be an eye-opener to other folks, saying, ‘Oh, look what they did,’ ” Holmes says. He adds that the Oregon example “certainly illustrates the innovative nature of financing projects that the creators of WIFIA were seeking.”
The multiphase Willamette Water Supply Program includes intake facilities, about 30 miles of pipeline—ranging from 48-in.- to 72-in.-dia—a water treatment plant and two storage tanks. Construction began in the fall of 2016 and so far a few elements have been completed, including some pipeline segments.
“We intend to be complete and on line in 2026,” says Marlys Mock, a spokesperson for the program. “Most of the construction is happening over the next few years, winding down after 2024,” she adds. Stantec is providing construction management services for the program.
The project will include seismic protections due to the presence of the Cascadia fault off the Pacific coast. The fault runs about 621 miles, from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, to northern California.
Project officials are developing seismic standards, Mock says, and the pipelines will include such seismic-related features as flexible joints and a fabric wrap to prevent the pipelines from coming apart during a quake. There will be seismic monitors in some locations, to detect shaking and shut valves automatically.
WIFIA was created in a 2014 water resources law, but EPA didn’t approve its first WIFIA loan until April 2018, partly because of low federal funding levels. Action has since picked up. The Oregon loans are EPA’s 10th and 11th under WIFIA, and the program’s cumulative loan volume has hit about $3 billion.