ITHACA, N.Y. — With a resolution passed Tuesday, Tompkins County legislators are urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state leaders to “double down” on water infrastructure funding through the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act, which has successfully helped towns locally and across the state make needed, expensive improvements.
The state’s Water Infrastructure Improvement Act created in 2015 provides grants to local governments to fund drinking water and wastewater improvement projects. With the WIIA, the state has awarded more than $500 million to local governments. The proposed budget for 2019-20 keeps the award amount stable by including $2.5 billion in funding over the next five years.
The resolution unanimously passed by Tompkins County Legislature urges the New York State Assembly, Senate and Gov. Cuomo to increase state funding to a level that meets the needs of municipalities across the state.
A state comptroller report in 2017 estimated the 20-year cost of needed drinking water investments to be about $61 billion. The comptroller report said local governments have the primary responsibility of rebuilding and updating their water infrastructure “even as their resources are already stretched thin and there is little appetite for increasing taxes, assessments and fees.”
Tompkins County has received some big grants as part of the WIIA. In November, Gov. Cuomo announced nearly $23 million in water infrastructure improvements for the Southern Tier. In Tompkins County, the Town of Ulysses received $300,000 for drinking water improvement and Cayuga Heights received $2.8 million for wastewater treatment plant improvements.
As the resolution passed Tuesday and grant applications for the WIIA illustrate, water infrastructure improvements for municipalities are “exceptionally expensive.” Though Cayuga Heights was awarded a sizeable grant, the total project is estimated to cost $11.2 million.
“The WIIA is a proven success. Here in Tompkins County alone, the program has helped villages like Trumansburg and Cayuga Heights as well as the town of Ulysses improve their water infrastructure. These upgrades simply wouldn’t happen without state grants. With billions needed statewide, it’s imperative that Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature secure a multi-year, multi-billion commitment in this year’s budget to help communities like ours address our water infrastructure needs,” Legislator Anna Kelles said in a statement.
The resolution comes on the heels of a major water main break in Downtown Ithaca last week that will take months to fix. When an 89-year-old pipe broke under part of Cayuga Street, the city said, it washed out support materials for the water and gas lines. As a result, the 200 block of North Cayuga Street will be closed until at least May. The city has 90 miles of underground pipes, and a third of them are more than 100 years old. Water main breaks have been an increasingly common occurrence, city data shows.
The resolution states that inadequate sewer infrastructure has resulted in limitations on sewer hookups in some areas of Tompkins County, which as a result inhibit economic growth and the development of housing.
Read the resolution below. Note that this is the draft version included with the agenda and may have small changes.