Time to Invest in Clean Water Infrastructure

By David Miller - Clean Water Program Coordinator
Thursday, March 14, 2024

Governor Hochul in her executive budget proposal cut in half one of the most vital environmental and community programs in the state: the New York State Clean Water Fund. The Clean Water Fund is the most effective investment by any state in the nation to address clean water infrastructure and program needs by providing grants to local governments on an annual basis. For the past several years the state has invested $500 million a year statewide with still more applications coming in than funds available. In this year’s budget the governor proposed dropping the fund to $250 million, but there is a statewide coalition movement, with the Adirondack Council’s support, to not only restore these funds but also increase the total to $600 million to address on-going needs across the state as well as in the Adirondacks. Recently at the Adirondack Park Lobby Day in Albany, this call to action was heard loud and clear by our state legislators as they negotiate the state budget. So, why is this so important to all of us who love the Adirondacks?NYS capitol

Since 2015, when the New York State Clean Water Fund was established, vital clean water infrastructure projects in communities across the Adirondack Park have benefited from state grant funds. Without these funds, most of these projects, including the new wastewater treatment plant at Lake George, to the major improvements to Ticonderoga and Saranac Lake facilities and sewer systems to Lake Placid’s upgrades to its wastewater treatment. And then there are towns like Peru, Westport, Willsboro, Crown Point, Moriah, and Bolton that have received vital clean water grants. But much more still to be done.

The Clean Water Fund includes millions of dollars in direct grants for wastewater treatment plants, sewer systems, and septic tanks, as well as drinking water facilities and grants for engineering, planning and road salt storage facilities. In fact, since the program began providing grants in early 2016, over $138 million in funds have come to Adirondack local governments, leveraging more than a quarter of a billion in investments. All of these programs are critically important to the lifeblood of the Adirondacks: its lakes and waterways.

a sewage treatment plant signEven with these investments, there is still a backlog reported at the NYS Environmental Facilities Corporation of $250 million in wastewater treatment plant and sewer system needs in the North Country. Some of the most critical projects needed include a new $12 million sewer line system at St. Armand, $30 million in treatment plant and sewer lines needs in Saranac Lake, and millions more at treatment plants in Bolton, Ticonderoga, Crown Point, and other towns across the Adirondacks. Elizabethtown has had a proposal to build a wastewater treatment plant to address failing old septic disposal systems in the town, which leach contaminants into the Bouquet River. This new plant proposal has floundered over the past several years due to its $25 million price tag and lack of enough grant funds to make it affordable to its residents. Hence, now is not the time to cut these funds but rather increase for these vital clean water projects.

rushing water goes between rocksIn addition, the Environmental Facilities Corporation has revised its grant guidelines to allow these grants to cover 50% of these clean water infrastructure project costs (up from 25% - an increase the Council advocated for). Adirondack and rural communities in the state are eligible for this provision. Couple that with the new federal infrastructure funds now available, and many of the affordability questions for small Adirondack towns are being addressed. Now is not the time to cut our Clean Water Funds, but to double down on our investments and make these projects a reality. Adirondack towns with pending projects need to raise their voices and put forth their applications for funding later this year.

There has never been a better time to fully address the clean water infrastructure needs of our Adirondack communities in a way that is viable and at a cost all residents can afford. Between now and April 1, when the final state budget is enacted, raise your voice to make sure $600 million is included in the Clean Water Fund. The Adirondack Park’s waters need to be protected, and our communities supported.

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