Written by: Joyce White, Director, USDA Rural Development Georgia
Not long ago, the United States was a world leader in infrastructure investments. Federal and private funding helped even the most remote communities obtain electricity, running water and access to the rest of the world through telecommunications.
However, recent years have not followed the same trend, and too many rural communities have been left behind. The need for improvement is great, especially for rural water and wastewater systems.
To put this in perspective, the American Water Works Association estimates that more than $600 billion is needed over the next 20 years to upgrade our nation’s water and wastewater systems. To bring it closer to home, the Georgian Municipal Association, in its Capital Needs of Georgia Cities, 2018-2022, reports $3.6 billion in projected statewide water & sewer capital needs over the next 5 years (excluding Atlanta).
Fortunately, for small and rural water systems in towns with populations of 10,000 or less, Rural Development has a source of affordable financing. There is hope for the future. This year, USDA Rural Development has more than $4 billion in direct loans available now to help rural communities build or upgrade water infrastructure. This is a substantial increase from last year. In 2017, USDA helped more than 2.5 million rural residents get access to upgraded water and wastewater systems. I am excited to see how many more people we can help with this unprecedented funding opportunity.
I encourage rural community leaders and water district operators to apply now for this assistance before the Sept. 30 deadline. USDA state and field offices are great resources to use during the application process, and we have technical assistance providers with water and waste expertise that can help complete rural communities’ applications.
USDA’s support for rural water infrastructure is already making a big impact here in Georgia. We recently announced $14 million funding for projects in Woodbury, Harlem and Hogansville and more water and sewer loans and grants are in the final stages of underwriting for other rural communities.
Water districts and rural communities can apply for USDA loans electronically using the interactive RDApply tool on the USDA Rural Development website (rd.usda.gov). Also, USDA state and field offices are great resources to use during the application process. The Georgia Rural Development office locations and contact information can also be found our website at https://www.rd.usda.gov/ga.
USDA is eager to partner with you in this effort to modernize water infrastructure in our state’s rural communities.