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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Water Reuse and the Title XVI Program: Legislative Issues

Betsy A. Cody
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Nicole T. Carter
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Congress authorized the Department of the Interior (DOI) to undertake a program to provide federal financing for water reuse (i.e., planned beneficial use of treated wastewater and impaired surface and groundwater) with passage of the Reclamation Wastewater and Groundwater Studies Feasibility Act of 1992 (Title XVI of P.L. 102-575). The Department of the Interior’s implementation of the program by the Bureau of Reclamation at times has been contentious. Many Members of Congress, particularly from water-scarce western states, have supported the program and specific projects. However, with a funding backlog of more than $630 million to complete already authorized projects, several pending authorizations, and ongoing concerns about the appropriate federal role in funding Title XVI facilities, it is not clear what action the 111th Congress will take in its remaining days. Similarly, it is not clear what approach the 112th Congress will take toward the Title XVI program.

Approximately $531 million has been appropriated for Title XVI projects in the West, mostly in California. Of the 53 authorized projects, 42 have received some appropriation. From FY2009 to FY2010, the number of projects that are either complete or have exhausted their authorized federal cost-share rose from 10 to 16. However, the rate of Title XVI project authorizations has outpaced annual appropriations. For example, recent stimulus funding combined with regular appropriations resulted in fewer “unfunded” projects on the books, but the overall funding backlog has grown to approximately $630 million.

At issue for Congress in the short term is whether to authorize new projects and at what level to fund already authorized projects (e.g., H.R. 2442 and H.R. 2522). At issue for the longer term is whether legislative action and oversight is needed to address Title XVI implementation issues, and if so, how to change the program. The Department of the Interior has taken action in recent years to improve the program’s implementation. To what degree these actions are consistent with congressional priorities for the program will significantly shape perspectives on whether the program warrants legislative attention in the 112
th Congress. Other issues include the future of new project authorizations, given the backlog of authorized projects awaiting appropriations and competing budget priorities, and whether Congress should appropriate lump sum funding to be allocated to projects by the Administration under new funding criteria.

A challenge for Congress is that stakeholders’ perspectives on how to manage and improve the program can be fundamentally different. Title XVI authorizations and appropriations have been pursued by many water utilities seeking access to federal funds, which can be leveraged to obtain additional financing. Project sponsors generally are seeking a more streamlined project development process and expanded program appropriations. The Administration appears to support a smaller, more focused program with long-term objectives tied to federal interests, as indicated by funding criteria released by the Administration in October 2010. Others fear the program will overwhelm Reclamation’s budget and compete with the upkeep and new authorizations for traditional Reclamation projects.

Views on the Title XVI program and its future also vary based on perspectives on the proper federal role in water supply development, the appropriate priority for the program in the current federal and state fiscal environments, the history and mission of the program, and the urgency and need for investment and promotion of water reuse technologies. The justification for federal involvement in these projects, which expand municipal water supply, and the long-term goals and planning for the program have come under scrutiny and may be at issue in the 112
th Congress.

Date of Report: November 9, 2010
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: R41487
Price: $29.95

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