November 22, 2022 542 PM
Water Finance Exchange: Catalyst for water infrastructure funding
Faithful readers of “Our Water Matters” are already aware of the efforts of the Presidio County Water Infrastructure Steering Committee to identify and fund the water and wastewater infrastructure needs of all communities in Presidio County. In addition to the incomparable involvement of the Environmental Defense Fund, close collaboration with Water Finance Exchange (WFX) has tremendously advanced the steering committee’s mission. Founded in 2020 by Hank Habicht and Brent Fewell, two former senior-level leaders at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Water Finance Exchange is a collection of experienced professionals in multiple facets of water infrastructure throughout the United States. These professionals represent federal, state and local expertise in the compliance, funding, operations and management of water systems and sensitive watershed resources. WFX deploys this expertise on behalf of communities and regional collaborations to provide ideas, guidance and affordability metrics so communities can realize sustainable water systems and utilities to bolster health and economic development.
According to Rogelio Rodriguez, director of the WFX Texas Infrastructure Fund, “We are a neutral party looking for solutions and are not promoting any products or preconceived plans. WFX is happy to be putting the ideas of our team to work for the Presidio area.” In explaining WFX’s unique approach to problem-solving in the water infrastructure space, co-founder Hank Habicht puts it this way: “We don’t care who gets the credit, just as long as communities get the solutions they need.” Under the leadership of Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara and the county’s Underground Water Conservation District, the steering committee has been working with WFX since it was formed back in July. According to Rodriguez, “We have had the opportunity to meet local leaders and community members who are as excited about the possibilities as we are.”
WFX brings not only expertise to the table, but also “a revolving predevelopment fund to address the funding shortage of water infrastructure projects for thousands of communities across the U.S.,” says Rodriguez. “We believe new, innovative thinking is necessary to meet the needs of communities in Texas and around the country and we think that Presidio County could serve as a model.”
For many years the state of Texas has administered funding to local communities through the programs of the Texas Water Development Board. However, the federal government recently made a generational commitment to water and wastewater funding through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Over the next five years, some $55 billion will be available to the states through the EPA, $220 million of which have already been allocated to Texas in this first year of funding. According to Rodriguez, “The EPA is adamant that these funds get into rural communities. We see an opportunity for Presidio to position itself to take advantage of this new funding, as well as other sources of funds, over the next few years.
Although this funding is limited and many communities will be competing for it, someone is going to end up with this money, and we are thinking: why not Presidio County?” Habicht and Rodriguez both believe that Presidio County is uniquely situated to take full advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “In significant ways, Presidio is setting a new example in that your communities have embraced and taken on the challenge in a regional way,” says Habicht. “The many communities that tie in together to make up the area recognize their importance to each other [and this] can serve as a model not only for Texas, but also communities nationwide. The collaboration in the form of the steering committee speaks loudly to funding organizations that project impact and sustainability are a collaboration founded on communication and priorities that serve all of the Presidio County region.”
At the recent “Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Opportunities in Texas” workshop hosted by WFX this past week in San Antonio, Carlos Rubinstein, senior advisor to WFX and former head of the Texas Water Development Board, called out Presidio County’s regional approach as a forward-looking example that others would be wise to emulate. “Their steering committee was formed mere months ago, folks, mere months. And very soon they could begin to see their first successes.”
Trey Gerfers is a San Antonio native and serves as general manager of the Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District. He also works as a translator of technical documents from German to English for the German and Swiss pharmaceutical and medical-science industries. Trey has lived in Marfa since 2013. He can be reached at [email protected]