The sources of our clean drinking water are precious and...

The sources of our clean drinking water are precious and need to be preserved. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

New York's elected leaders are working to craft the next state budget. In doing so, they are debating how much funding will be available for our counties, cities, towns, villages and water districts to prevent water pollution and update our water and wastewater infrastructure – the systems that bring clean water to our homes and take dirty water away. The sources of our clean drinking water are precious and need to be preserved. In addition, our water infrastructure is very old and needs a lot of updates to prevent pollution. In every corner of our state, municipalities need funding to modernize drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.

It is unusual that clean water funding is part of the state budget debate. Our state leaders know the importance of clean water and have worked across the aisle to upgrade water infrastructure, protect clean water, and prevent pollution from reaching our lakes, rivers, streams, bays, and harbors.

For the last eight years, New York State has dedicated at least $500 million a year to update our water infrastructure. These investments have been vital for Long Island, funding new drinking water main replacements, sewage treatment plant and septic system upgrades, lead pipe replacement, toxic site remediation, and much more. These investments also help unlock millions in federal funding for local projects, a huge help to our municipalities.

Despite these critical investments, more is required. In fact, the total statewide need is estimated to be more than $80 billion over the next two decades. We must not only continue clean water investments across New York, we should increase them to meet the overwhelming need.

Yet, this year, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget proposal included a 50% cut to funding for the Clean Water Infrastructure Act. This comes as the state’s water infrastructure is deteriorating and failing. We need more state funding for clean water infrastructure projects, not less. According to the governor's office, the latest round of Clean Water Infrastructure Act grants created 24,000 jobs across the state.

This year, state funds can go even further than in years past because right now, for a limited time, there are unprecedented federal funds available for water quality improvement projects. State leaders should be seizing this opportunity.

Fortunately, the State Senate and Assembly restored environmental funding in their own budget proposals, including $500 million for the Clean Water Infrastructure Act. The Senate budget proposal also included an additional $112 million for other water quality improvement projects. We are grateful to state legislators for their leadership and urge them to work with Hochul to ensure these investments are included in the final state budget.

New Yorkers should remember that clean water is the one thing we cannot live without and not something to take for granted. We Long Islanders know how essential clean water is to our lives; water surrounds and sustains our communities from our beloved coasts to the drinking water aquifer beneath our feet. We need to make sure our state leaders never forget how vital clean water is. We all need clean water, and we all depend on the infrastructure that provides it to us. Now is the time to update it.

We can build a more vibrant future for all New Yorkers when we invest in protecting clean water.

This guest essay reflects the views of Marci Bortman, director of conservation and science at The Nature Conservancy in New York.

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