Construction crews in Houston broke ground earlier this month on a $1.35 billion expansion of a water purification plant, which would make it the world's largest water-treatment project, according to the Houston Chronicle.
The new facility, which draws from Lake Houston, will be able to process five times the water it currently does — about 400 million gallons daily up from 80 million gallons currently — by 2024. The city of Houston, which has invested $1.5 billion in the purification initiative, will also oversee the design and construction of a high-service pump station and storage tanks.
Surface water must represent at least 60% of the water supplied to the public by 2025 and 80% by 2035. Extraction of groundwater in amounts necessary to keep pace with development has caused some wells to be compromised by saltwater intrusion and has resulted in areas of flooding due to sinking ground.
One in five Americans has been exposed to potentially unsafe drinking water more than once in the last 10 years, according to USA Today. Based on data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it would take $384 billion through 2030 to make the necessary system upgrades and repairs to keep the water supply safe, although a 2016 report from the National Governors Association (NGA) puts that number at more than $600 billion.
At the organization's state planning retreat on public-private partnerships last year, the NGA said that the EPA would continue to explore how P3s could assist in tackling the volume of U.S. water projects. That conversation includes the issue of funding.
As with most infrastructure projects, the more financing options the better. The EPA recently opened up another possibility through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA).
In July, the agency announced that it had chosen 12 projects to apply for the first WIFIA loans, a low-interest lending program similar to the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program. The WIFIA fund has $1.5 billion at its disposal and expects to field loan requests of more than $2 billion representing $5.1 billion of applicants' project costs. Those projects include the categories of wastewater treatment, water recycling, sewer overflow and drinking water.