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EPA expands its water program to help more disadvantaged communities apply for grants

Many communities lack the resources necessary to conduct the technical assessments needed to win federal grants. The EPA wants to help.

The Biden administration announced Thursday that it will be expanding a program offering small disadvantaged communities help in applying for $50 billion in infrastructure act funding to improve drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, disadvantaged and underserved communities often struggle to access federal funding because they lack the money to do the assessments required to apply for grants.

To try to help, the EPA said it will now be offering engineering assistance to communities to identify water challenges, develop plans, build capacity and develop their application materials through its WaterTA program. The program is free, and local governments, water utilities, state and tribal governments, and nonprofits are eligible for the assistance.

The agency is already working with California’s Big Valley Rancheria/Band of Pomo Indians water district, which serves a casino, a hotel, a marina, a recreational vehicle park and 38 Tribal homes. The engineering support will do a structural evaluation of its wastewater treatment system, an environmental review and a preliminary engineering report, all of which are needed to apply for a federal water grant.

“In low-income and black and brown communities across the country, lack of access to engineering services is a significant barrier to applying for and securing federal water infrastructure funding,” Radhika Fox, assistant administrator for water at the EPA, said in a statement. “Providing access to these services through our WaterTA program will help break down this barrier and enable more communities to access the Biden-Harris Administration’s unprecedented investments in America.”

In a survey last year, state workers administering federal grants under the infrastructure and climate laws worried that not all communities would even know funds are available. 

Denise Schmidt, director of the funding navigator team at the Environmental Policy Innovation Center, one of the groups behind the survey, applauded the additional help for disadvantaged communities. 

“Too many communities still lack access to the resources and infrastructure they need for safe drinking water and other vital water services,” she said. “Disadvantaged communities in particular have long been left out of investments in water quality and access—but bolstering technical assistance can help change that.”

Interested communities can apply for WaterTA assistance by filing a request form.

Kery Murakami is a senior reporter for Route Fifty, covering Congress and federal policy. He can be reached at Follow @Kery_Murakami

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