WIFIA program closes its first loan
April 25, 2018

In a water sector milestone, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued its first loan from the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program to King County, Washington, to help finance the county’s new wastewater and stormwater treatment plant.

"It is gratifying to everyone at AWWA to see the first WIFIA loan closing,” said Tracy Mehan, AWWA executive director of government affairs. “This is a program that has been worth waiting for.”

The loan will help finance up to $134.5 million – nearly half of the $275 million project.

“We’re very grateful for EPA’s generous financial support, and honored they selected the Georgetown Wet Weather Treatment Station project to receive the first WIFIA loan,” said King County Wastewater Treatment Division Director Mark Isaacson, pictured below. “The financing will save our ratepayers about $30 million, while investing in the economic and environmental health of communities near the Duwamish River.”

The loan closing comes four years after Congress enacted WIFIA to reduce the cost of large water infrastructure projects by providing low-interest, long-term federal loans to communities. 

Last month, Congress and the Trump administration doubled WIFIA funding and bolstered drinking water state revolving funds through the obmnibus spending bill. WIFIA received $63 million – up from $30 million in its first year of funding  -- to make loans and the DWSRF received $1.16 billion, an increase of $300 million. WIFIA loans, combined with other public and private funding, will finance approximately $16 billion in infrastructure needs. 

AWWA is the chief architect of WIFIA, which is now accepting letters of interest from prospective borrowers for financing in 2018. The letters are due by July 6. 

Last week, a record 160 delegates from 48 states converged on Capitol Hill for AWWA’s annual Water Matters! Fly-In, where they advocated for several sector initiatives, including water infrastructure investment and source water protection. The AWWA delegates urged robust funding for WIFIA and state revolving loan funds, as well as support for other sector issues.

In King County, construction began two months ago on the Georgetown Wet Weather Treatment Station, which will treat up to 70 million gallons of polluted runoff daily that currently overflows untreated into the Duwamish River during severe rainstorms.

The project is the first of eight capstone projects that will complete King County’s four-decade work to control combined sewer overflow that still occurs in parts of Seattle, where sewer lines were installed in the early to mid-20th century.

A dozen projects across the United States qualified for a loan in WIFIA’s first round of funding. Because the WIFIA program offers loans with low, fixed interest rates, EPA’s loan is expected to save King County about $30 million. 

The loan “marks a major milestone in advancing President Trump’s vision for improving our country’s water infrastructure,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said. “EPA’s WIFIA program is proof positive that we can achieve environmental protections and economic growth at the same time.”

Artist's rendition of Georgetown Wet Weather Treatment Station by King County/Miller Hull and Berger Partnership.

Do you have comments or story ideas for Connections? Please contact Ann Espinola at aespinola@awwa.org.