March 22, 2022
Senior Advisor for Infrastructure Implementation, The White House
Gloria Montaño Greene
Deputy Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Assistant Secretary for Civil Works, Department of the Army
Assistant Secretary, Water and Science, U.S. Department of the Interior
Senior Vice President, Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, President, Global Energy Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Vice President, Environmental Affairs and Sustainability, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Senior Vice President, State & Local Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
In honor of World Water Day on March 22, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted an inter-agency discussion on water resilience and modern resilient infrastructure in the business community. Here’s what government workers had to say about the water resilience sector while focusing on infrastructure and water resilience programs.
Infrastructure Implementation Will Require a More Robust Workforce
The federal government is pushing for many new projects and infrastructure investments, especially in the water and resilience space. According to Ryan Berni, senior advisor for infrastructure implementation at The White House, it’s important to make sure this implementation can happen at the ground level, especially as the country works through workforce challenges.
“There [are] 125 new programs ... [and] entire new sectors that the government has not funded before,” Berni said.
For instance, in the energy space, there’s a new Grid Monitorization Office that focuses on hardening the electric grid so the country is able to withstand future shocks.
“These are functions that have not existed before, so now we have to build the team that is going to stand up those functions,” he said. “The success is really making sure this money gets out to the ground and that it's able to be implemented by states in cities.”
Unlike how it’s been done in the past, however, “90% of the funding is going to states and local governments … [and] only about 5% is direct spend by the federal government,” Berni continued.
Water Resilience Programs Are Gaining More Funding
Bruno Pigott, deputy assistant administrator of the Office of Water for the Environmental Protection Agency, shared a recent success. On March 8, the EPA released an implementation memo to states and regional offices outlining the purposes of the funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program.
“There’s $50 billion, which is more than in the history of the SRF program, that's been made available to states and communities around the nation to implement water and wastewater improvements,” he said.
Pigott noted “it was a constant cry” for more investment from the U.S. EPA so they could “have enough money to make the infrastructure improvements.” However, “that has all changed.”
“The communities used to love to talk about something that we called ‘unfunded mandates,’” Pigott continued. “Well, we still have mandates, but now they're funded … to a degree that has never been in the history of water programs throughout the United States.”
“Congress was wise to put this money through the state revolving fund programs,” Pigott said. “They have a long history of making sure that communities across the country were able to make water and wastewater improvements.”
Partnering With Federal Agencies Will Help Build Successful Water Resilience Programs
Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary of Water and Science at the U.S. Department of the Interior, coined the Department of the Interior as the “little sister” when referring to the amount of funding available. However, she noted, it’s a “historical opportunity for us to build upon the successful programs and the projects that we do have.”
“I think in terms of highlighting problems, I would characterize our problems as good problems to have right now, just because we do have this extra capacity and the ability to do so much more than we had in the past,” Trujillo said.
She stressed, however, that the department is still facing challenges due to the continued drought and current climate situation.
“We're having to manage, and our workforces are having to manage, in real-time, with the conditions that we're seeing truly unprecedented circumstances,” she said.
“It’s great to have the partnerships there among our federal agencies to be able to troubleshoot and fill gaps with each other in terms of our various authorities and with our local partners as well,” Trujillo continued.