Our water infrastructure is at stake

State needs leadership on restoring funding to help cities, towns maintain water systems

Municipal leaders understand that if we do not take care of our water resources, we will undermine the economic underpinnings of our cities, towns and state.

An element of our true New Hampshire advantage, our water infrastructure and all the economic and environmental benefits derived from it, is at stake. We must make investment in our water infrastructure a top legislative priority in 2013.

New Hampshire citizens are dependent on a wide array of infrastructure that moves, stores and treats water. To make this happen, cities and towns own and operate a collection of water infrastructure, including public drinking water, centralized wastewater and stormwater systems.

However, these municipal assets are under pressure today. Increasingly, municipalities are finding themselves financially stressed from aging infrastructure assets, the ever-rising cost of regulatory compliance, and declining federal and state support.

For instance, since 2008, the Legislature has suspended environmental state aid grant (SAG) payments to municipalities that have recently spent money on public drinking water, wastewater and landfill closure projects.

The SAG program provides financial support to municipalities to pay off bonds for such infrastructure improvements. As a result, there is now a backlog of 124 completed projects totaling nearly $55 million in outstanding state obligations.

These are state monies that are owed to cities and towns. These municipal projects were “sold” to local taxpayers based on the expectation that state funds would continue to be available as they have historically been available.

Cities and towns are financially tapped out. With ever-shrinking dollars, municipal officials must make the difficult decisions in prioritizing among the many competing and legitimate needs and services of its residents. As these systems continue to age and federal permit limits continue to tighten, the financial burden on municipalities only increases. It doesn’t have to be this way.

What we need today is leadership and more effective partnerships. New Hampshire needs elected leaders who will look for long-term solutions to New Hampshire’s problems.

Regarding current and future municipal infrastructure needs, we must focus on a long-term sustainable solution. Cities and towns need not, and cannot, bear the financial burden of these infrastructure improvements alone. The economic and environmental benefits from these system investments are felt far beyond the local level. All beneficiaries should pay for these infrastructure improvements, and as such, there should be a stronger partnership among federal, state and local governments toward this end.

Clearly the value of clean water is important to our state’s economy, recreation and tourism, public safety and environmental protection. New Hampshire residents are fortunate to have the advantage of an abundance of clean water. And yet, on average, New Hampshire residents spend more on cell and Internet services each year than they do on municipal water and wastewater services.

Next time you see your local legislator, or perhaps a candidate running for state elective office this November, ask where they stand on this important issue. Together, we must make investment in our water infrastructure a top legislative priority in 2013.

Don MacIsaac is a Jaffrey selectman. Timothy Fortier is government affairs advocate at the New Hampshire Municipal Association.

Categories: Opinion