Two weeks ago, the new Administration unveiled its $2 trillion infrastructure plan to address major shortcomings in the nation’s infrastructure, which currently ranks 13th in the world. The plan heavily underscores innovation to mitigate and adapt to progressive climate change, including renewing water infrastructure, while investing in historically marginalized communities and fueling jobs and workforce development in a shifting economy.
Prioritizing Climate Change
There is near-unanimous global scientific agreement that climate change is causing temperatures to increase, sea levels to rise, flooding events to become more frequent and intense, and hurricanes and wildfires to become more destructive. These events are placing increased strain on existing infrastructure – including water, stormwater and sewer systems – which is already failing in the US, recently receiving an overall C- grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).
In 2020, the United States faced 22 individual major weather and climate disasters, costing $95 billion in damages to homes, businesses, and public infrastructure. The new infrastructure plan lays out numerous ways to upgrade infrastructure to reduce our vulnerability to climate patterns. Most notably, under the plan, $35 billion will be funneled into “technology breakthroughs that address the climate crisis,” with emphasis on protecting and restoring nature-based infrastructure.
Ensuring Sustainable Water Infrastructure
Aging water and stormwater systems threaten public safety and health in thousands of communities nationwide. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave both the US wastewater and stormwater systems “D” grades in its 2021 infrastructure report card published last month. The infrastructure plan seeks to upgrade and modernize America’s aging and near-failing water, wastewater, and stormwater systems by scaling up existing, successful programs. This proposed $56 billion investment, encouraging water efficiency and recycling, will be distributed through grants and low-cost flexible loans to states, Tribes, territories, and communities nationwide.
Advancing Equity & Racial Justice
Low-income and people of color are more likely to live in areas highly prone to flooding and other extreme weather events, while also having fewer means to prepare for or recover from them. The infrastructure plan seeks to prioritize infrastructure investments within historically marginalized and excluded communities that are both physical and financially most vulnerable to climate-driven disasters, as well as to ensure that these communities have equitable access to well-paying jobs locally. 40% of the benefits of climate and clean infrastructure investments will be concentrated within disadvantaged and historically marginalized communities through mechanisms like the Community Revitalization Fund and $100 billion will be allocated to workforce development programs targeted at underserved populations.
Fostering Workforce Development & Job Creation
At present, more than 10 million Americans are officially unemployed – a rate of 6.3% that exceeds that of the Great Recession. And economists estimate the true number is likely much higher. Under the new infrastructure plan, $10 billion would be allocated to put a new, diverse generation to work in conservation through a new Civilian Climate Corps, helping improve racial and gender equity while bolstering community resilience and environmental justice. As more Americans find themselves shifting their career orientation in a changing economy, the need for new skills development has grown exponentially as well. To adequately prepare workers with the new skills they need to thrive, the plan proposes the Dislocated Workers Program, which will fund comprehensive services to help displaced workers gain new skills and get connected with in-demand jobs.
To review the comprehensive new plan fact sheet for details, click here. With the above four key priorities at the helm, the new plan could have significant implications for water infrastructure, the future of stormwater management, and the opportunity to accelerate green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) solutions nationwide. Stay tuned.