Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that USDA is providing more than $352 million in loans and grants to upgrade rural water and wastewater systems nationwide and make infrastructure improvements in rural Alaska villages. The projects funded will not only help ensure rural places have access to clean water, but will also create jobs and help communities retain and attract new businesses and families.
“These investments are critical for our health and safety, and in the long term for sustainable economic development,” Vilsack said. “Investments like these in the nation’s water infrastructure also are critical to address the impact of climate change on our water supplies. The projects supported with these resources will ensure rural families have access to clean water and create jobs in communities across the country.”
Climate change is putting more stress on municipal water systems, Vilsack noted. Many areas around the country have seen changes in rainfall, resulting in more floods and droughts, declines in snowpack, intense rain as well as more frequent and severe heat waves. All of these are placing fiscal strains on communities – causing them to make more frequent and often costly repairs and upgrades.
Vilsack announced the awards during a speech here today at the annual conference of the Alaska Federation of Natives.
Since 2009, USDA Rural Development has invested nearly $11 billion in new and improved water and wastewater infrastructure that has benefited nearly 15 million rural residents and almost 6 million households and businesses.
USDA is providing $175 million in loans and $165 million in grants through the Water and Environmental Program. This is part of more than $1.5 billion USDA invested in rural water and wastewater projects during the 2014 Fiscal Year, which ended September 30.
In Alaska, the city of Buckland is receiving a $45,000 grant to conduct a cost analysis for preliminary engineering and environmental reports for a proposed solid waste site.
Edgerton, Wis., is receiving a $7.8 million loan and $2.5 million grant to upgrade its 31-year-old water treatment facility. The city is under a schedule of compliance with the Department of Natural Resources. The new facility will allow the city to meet newly imposed discharge limits.
In addition to the investments to upgrade rural water and wastewater systems, Vilsack announced six grants totaling $12.1 million to help rural Alaskan villages make infrastructure improvements. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium has been selected for a $5 million grant to remove dire sanitation conditions in the community of Akiachak. Many residents there lack indoor plumbing and must haul water and utilize honey buckets for waste disposal. The consortium will use the grant to construct sewer mains, build a lift station and bury water mains.
Akiachak is one of many communities targeted for special assistance through USDA’s StrikeForce Initiative for Rural Growth and Opportunity. USDA launched StrikeForce in 2010 to address persistent poverty in the United States through intensive outreach and stronger partnerships with community leaders, businesses, foundations and other groups that are working to combat poverty. Since then, the Department has partnered with more than 400 community organizations to support more than 80,000 projects that have leveraged nearly $10 billion in investments into rural America.
The investments announced today are provided through USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS), which also administers infrastructure programs that fund broadband and rural electric systems to meet the needs of rural communities. View the complete list of recipients and projects receiving funding under today’s announcement.
USDA’s infrastructure investments have had a profound impact on rural communities. This year alone, USDA provided nearly $10 million to improve water and waste systems to help 74,000 residents of drought-affected areas of rural California.
In April, USDA allocated $150 million in Farm Bill grants plus $237 million in Rural Development funds for the Department’s largest Earth Day investment in rural water and wastewater systems. Of the nearly $387 million awarded for 116 Earth Day projects, 16 were in areas of persistent poverty and 29 were in communities served by USDA’s StrikeForce Initiative for Rural Growth and Opportunity.
President Obama’s historic investments in rural America have made our rural communities stronger. Under his leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities.