Water infrastructure is essential to treat and distribute safe drinking water as well as support sanitation needs and provide value for public health, quality of natural environments, and the ability to support population and economic growth. In fact, according to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality more than six million people in Arizona get drinking water from a regulated public water system. However, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Arizona’s overall infrastructure a C grade on its 2020 infrastructure report card, giving both drinking water and wastewater infrastructure a C-.
The report states that much of the water mains in Arizona were built around three decades ago and require maintenance. But due to a refusal to raise water rates, maintenance to support these water systems – that are essential to produce safe drinking water – often experience deferment. Out of the 421 water rate structures with a known effective date, 46 percent of them have not updated their rates in five years, and 20 percent have not updated rates in 15 years. Arizona’s drinking water sector is not the only issue the state’s water infrastructure faces.
The state’s wastewater infrastructure requires an expansion of water treatment plants and shows disparities in technical, financial, and management capacities between urban and rural utilities. It also faces a record number of requisition openings and staffing gaps with 5 percent to 15 percent of job openings left unfilled and an ongoing and increasing shortfall in operation and maintenance staff to sustain it.The report also mentions how Arizona’s wastewater infrastructure has experienced a significant investment gap of $1.4 billion. And even though in recent years more investments have been made, they have not been equally distributed across the state.
The report lists recommendations to resolve these concerns, and President Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), will address these issues within Arizona’s water systems while improving the state’s overall public infrastructure. Under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Arizona will receive $619 million over five years to improve water infrastructure across the state to ensure that clean, safe drinking water is a right in all communities like those in Pima County. And with IIJA funding, for the next five years, the state will also receive roughly double the average $51 million it has received annually since 2016 to finance wastewater projects through the EPA Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that the over $109 million of funding to Arizona through the IIJA will go towards creating jobs, upgrading aging water infrastructure and addressing unique water and wastewater challenges to the region. These challenges include, exceptional drought, threats to watersheds from wildfire, and emerging contaminants. EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan emphasized in this announcement the importance of Arizona leadership to fully utilize the water funding from IIJA to address disproportionate environmental burdens in historically underserved communities in the state.