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Congress needs to accelerate water reuse and recycling

The Infrastructure and Jobs Act is a good start but more federal infrastructure is needed to adequately address climate change

water recycling overhead shot

Recycling and reuse will be the next big issues for congress on water.

As climate change makes many areas hotter and drier, we are increasingly seeing water scarcity across our nation. It’s more important than ever to invest in water recycling and reuse projects that will help our businesses and communities sustainably increase their supplies of water into the foreseeable future.

When the Senate enacted the bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Act on Aug. 10, it was clear that water was a priority. The legislation will invest tens of billions of dollars in essential issues such as upgrading and modernizing the country’s wastewater, stormwater and drinking water systems; removing lead service lines across the U.S.; and remediating PFAS in drinking water.

However, the Infrastructure and Jobs Act falls short when it comes to investing in solutions that will help mitigate the water impacts of climate change. Although the legislation creates a federal Interagency Working Group on Water Reuse, and provides $1 billion over five years for water recycling programs, this historic investment in water recycling is only for 17 Western U.S. states. The time is now for Washington D.C. to provide real leadership and make water recycling a reality for the rest of the nation.

In addition to addressing climate change, it’s essential to focus on economic and climate justice related to water scarcity and eliminate obstacles to water reuse and recycling. This can be accomplished by adopting a recommendation from WateReuse for establishing a nationwide resiliency program called the Alternative Water Source Grants Pilot Program, which would expand access to water recycling tools and resources beyond the Western U.S.

The new interagency working group, meanwhile, will provide much-needed focus on water reuse and recycling. It can help break down silos and leverage federal resources while generating stakeholder engagement. From this building block, the administration can set in place awards for innovation in the public and private sectors, a road map for awareness and advocacy and a detailed plan specifically aimed at driving water reuse and recycling even at the household level to mitigate the effects of climate change.

An organized effort such as this can also help spur public-private partnerships that eliminate obstacles to water reuse and recycling and get more specific about the role water plays in economic and climate justice. Driving innovation through companies’ creation and piloting of a 100 percent water efficient home is another pathway. The government’s ability to provide critical tools and resources that budget-strapped states may not be able to spare is critical as local budgets slog through a long recovery from the pandemic.

Industrial facilities consume 45% of municipal drinking water.

According to WateReuse, industrial facilities consume 45 percent of municipal drinking water. The cost of retrofitting existing facilities to use recycled water is often prohibitive. An investment tax credit (ITC), or a dollar-for-dollar reduction in federal income taxes for the companies’ that investment in infrastructure, technology or other projects, has the potential to create an entire industry for water reuse overnight.

Something like this was proposed in 2014 by a trio of senators. The Energy Efficiency Tax Incentives Act proposal would have created a new ITC for water reuse, recycling and efficiency for process, sanitary and cooling water. The effort did not advance to a vote.

To create a modern ITC approach with real impact, Congress should establish a tax credit of up to 30 percent of the project value when purchasing, designing and installing systems that increase water recycling or the use of recycled water. The credits should be structured on a sliding scale reflective of the size and impact of improvements.

In addition to any financial incentives that Congress might provide, the Biden Administration should create a national award for Water Innovation and Sustainability. This would — at no cost to the federal government — spur businesses and communities to implement even more creative and effective approaches to using water sustainably.

Water reuse and recycling aren’t just about Congress providing more money or incentives. They require leadership, innovative and collaborative approaches and a comprehensive plan that is thoughtful of the many weighty intersections of water with industry, local communities, our climate and equality.

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