What is the Needs Assessment?
Every four years the U.S. Congress requires an assessment of the 20-year forecasted capital improvement needs of public water systems. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) selected 56 of Washington's community water systems to participate in the 2021 Needs Survey. EPA uses the results of this limited survey to estimate the capital improvement needs for all of our public water utilities in the state. The selected systems (PDF) include all 12 large utilities with a population over 100,000 and a statistical sampling of 44 medium-sized utilities (3,300 to 100,000 population). EPA surveyed small systems with population less than 3,300 people, including about 32 in Washington.
Based on the 2021 Needs Survey data, EPA calculated the capital improvement needs of Washington's Group A public water systems through the year 2041 at $11.7 billion. EPA will publish their final 2021 report to Congress later this year. Find more information on EPA's website.
Why is the Needs Assessment Important to Utilities?
Washington's water utilities need access to as many Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) dollars as possible to help meet their capital investment needs. In the last DWSRF loan cycle, we were able to fund about half of the loan amount requested.
A small change in Washington's share of the national need makes a big difference in the size of Washington's annual DWSRF allotment. For example, in the 2007 Needs Assessment, Washington's need was 2.55 percent of the national total. In 2011 our share declined to 2.23 percent. That small difference meant a decline of nearly $3 million per year in DWSRF capitalization grants over the next four years. The allotment increased to 2.29 percent based on the 2021 Needs Assessment except for the allotment for Lead Service Line Replacement funding which was set at 1 percent, the minimum allotment guaranteed to each state and territory.
Successfully identifying every allowable 20-year capital expenditure maximizes loan funds available to water utilities in the next four-year period, and beyond.
Why is the Needs Assessment Important to Us?
We use a portion of our annual DWSRF capitalization grant to fund our operations. Each year we may “set aside” a portion of our annual capitalization grant to meet the public health goals of the Safe Drinking Water Act. These funds provide us with flexibility to respond to the changing needs of water utilities. We've used this money to:
- Develop statewide source water protection mapping and data storage capabilities.
- Fund our source water protection, preconstruction, and consolidation/feasibility study grant programs.
- Pay third-party technical assistance contractors.
- Fund our treatment optimization program.
- Pay the salaries of certain staff and buy certain equipment.
- Support local health jurisdictions working on our behalf (subsidize the cost of sanitary surveys, technical assistance, special purpose investigations, emergency response).