Government Accountability Office (GAO) affirms federal arrangement of EPA and USDA programs for water infrastructure funding
A new report finds that no duplication at the federal level exists among the programs of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that provide drinking water and wastewater infrastructure funding to small, rural communities.
In the report, “Rural Water Infrastructure: Additional Coordination Can Help Avoid Potentially Duplicative Application Requirements,” GAO recommended changes by the agencies specifically to “help states develop uniform preliminary engineering reports, develop guidelines to help states develop uniform environmental analyses, and reemphasize the importance of state-level coordination.” EPA and USDA oversee the three largest federally funded drinking water and wastewater funding programs for communities with populations of 10,000 or less.
The Midwest Assistance Program’s (MAP) work is related to these programs in key ways. “MAP staff uses all these federal and state programs for the benefits of the communities that we serve,” commented Marcie McLaughlin, MAP CEO. “We often are a key player in the statewide effort to coordinate projects and funding. In the last six months alone, a total of $897,000 in funding has been leveraged from these agencies for rural communities.”
Communities that MAP assists for no charge relate in a direct and beneficial way from the programs of these agencies. Many water infrastructure projects in communities in MAP’s nine states are working to apply for and receive funding from the EPA’s Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs and the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) Water and Waste Disposal program. MAP assists the staff and board members of water utilities in communities with the application process for funding from these programs and with the other steps that are required to become eligible for loans and grants from these programs. It is on the applications and other requirements that GAO was making its recommendations.
MAP and the national network of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP), also receives direct grants for its general operating budget to employ 120 staff members across the country to provide technical, managerial and financial assistance to small, rural communities from both the EPA’s and USDA’s water-related programs.
“We are pleased to see the GAO affirm what we already knew: The State Revolving Fund programs and Rural Utilities Service’s water and wastewater programs are not duplicative, but rather are complementary,” said Ari Neumann, Director of Policy Development and Applied Research in RCAP’s national office in Washington, D.C. He explained that together, the three programs serve water systems of all sizes, from small to large. “These programs contribute to the world-class clean and safe water and wastewater treatment that Americans expect and deserve.”
Neumann added that even with the three programs in place, they do not go far enough. “At the current levels of funding, they still do not address the nation’s continuing needs for water infrastructure financing, which EPA estimates are in excess of $600 billion over the next two decades,” he said.
“We agree with the report’s recommendations that the agencies should collaborate more to ensure that communities are subject to one uniform set of requirements and are pleased by the efforts that are currently underway at the federal level to standardize and streamline the application processes.”
Read the full report here.
Today, ten MAP staff are in the community of Windsor, MO, population 2,901, conducting an energy audit. Scott Strahley, from the Ohio RCAP, is assisting our staff with this energy audit to enable MAP to assist other small communities going forward. This audit will provide Windsor with recommendations for reducing energy costs in their city offices and water and wastewater utilities.
By the time the check is presented or the water tower constructed, thousands of hours have been invested by community leaders and residents to build, upgrade or finance their water and wastewater systems. MAP staff are often behind the scenes in our nine state communities assisting those communities to reach their goal. From convening the initial meetings, engaging state and federal agencies, informing the local officials of their options or connecting ‘the dots’ in so many other ways, MAP’s work has moved the project forward.
These efforts, however, are often difficult to count. And more difficult to credit. This is the work of conveners, networkers and subject experts. Our Spring 2012 e-Source highlights the work conducted by MAP staff in our nine state region. Click here read the full e-newsletter.
We appreciate the support of our federal funders; EPA, US Department of Health and Human Services and USDA Rural Development and the congressional delegation in all nine states. We continue to tell your community’s and MAP’s stories to each of them.