USDA, EPA Announce Rural Water Support
Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that aims to help water systems face the challenges of aging infrastructure, workforce shortages, increasing costs, limited management capacity and declining rate bases.
According to EPA’s news release, the decision supports its 50th anniversary and February theme of protecting the nation’s waters, which includes surface water protection, safe drinking water and water infrastructure investments.
“Rural water systems play a key role in the lives of all Americans,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water David Ross.
“Investing resources in rural system infrastructure and management supports EPA’s goal of ensuring that rural communities have the infrastructure necessary to become sustainable, protect public health and support the rural economy.”
Rural Water Support Background
Reports claim that more than 97% of 153,000 public drinking water systems in the U.S. serve less than 10,000 people, while 78% of the 15,000 wastewater treatment plants treat less than one million gallons per day. These small systems are often found in rural locations and often face challenges when working to meet federal and state regulations to successfully provide affordable drinking water and wastewater services.
Starting back in September, the EPA announced $15 million in grant funding slated for technical assistance and training providers to benefit rural and small water systems.
The funding was planned to be used by “nonprofit organizations to provide small public drinking water and wastewater systems with training and technical assistance to achieve and maintain compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act, improve operational performance and help inform private drinking water well owners about protecting their drinking water supply,” stated the EPA.
Award recipients for the grant funding are expected to be announced this spring.
The following month, EPA Regional Administrator Mike Stoker proposed a rule amendment that would be the first significant overhaul of the Lead and Copper Rule since 1991 and aims to improving how communities test for lead in drinking water, as well as spurring quicker response times if problems become evident.
According to the Post, the amended rule was under development since 2010, and is meant to tackle lead levels across 68,000 public water systems.
However, at the end of January, the Trump administration announced that it had finalized a rule to remove environmental protections from ephemeral bodies of water—meaning bodies of water that only form after rainfall or only flow part of the year. However, the revision also applies to streams, wetlands, groundwater, waste treatment systems and priorly converted cropland and farm watering ponds.
The endeavor reducing the number of waterways receiving federal protection under the Clean Water Act and is part of the roll back of nearly 95 environmental rules.
What’s Happening Now
Through the MOA, a formal collaboration has been created between the EPA and USDA as to help create short- and long-term sustainability in rural water systems. To achieve the implementation of innovative strategies and tools, the agreement focuses on four main areas:
“We are pleased to continue this important work with EPA to support rural water and waste infrastructure,” said USDA Rural Utilities Service Administrator Chad Rupe.
"Under the leadership of President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Perdue, USDA is committed to working collaboratively with our federal partners to help rural systems thrive and serve their communities because when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”