Government Accountability Office affirms federal arrangement of EPA and USDA programs for water infrastructure funding

October 31, 2012 | EPA, Guide, Utilities

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.

However, the report, authored by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), recommends that EPA and USDA make changes to eliminate inefficiencies on the state and community levels to make it easier for communities to apply for and prepare for funding from these agencies for water infrastructure work.

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.

RCAP’s work is related to these programs in key ways.

The communities that RCAP assists free of charge benefit directly from EPA and USDA’s programs. Many water infrastructure projects in communities assisted by RCAP 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. RCAP assists the staff and board members of water utilities with the funding application process from these programs and with the other necessary steps to apply for loans and grants from these programs. It
is on these requirements that GAO was making its recommendations.

RCAP also receives direct grants for its general operating budget to employ 140 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

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