Show me the money: Municipal water and wastewater
No matter the size of municipal water or wastewater project, you always need money. Fortunately, there are many funding sources packaged in many shapes and sizes. Funding sources have varying criteria relative to eligible projects, eligible applicants, funding amounts, application periods and then of course the application process itself.
Eligible projects may be organized by categories like water and wastewater infrastructure, water rights and storm water. They are also often grouped by phase of the proposed project, such as planning, pre-construction only or design-construction. Some programs offer only low interest loans, while others may offer a grant and loan combination. Some of the most widely used funding mechanisms are the Drinking Water Revolving Fund, Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund, and the USDA Rural Development and Rural Community Assistance Corporation. Eligible applicants vary from program to program, but in general, counties, cities and special-purpose districts have many more choices than private water systems or non-profits. Hopefully the options will increase for the latter in the future.
If you have a new project and are uncertain which funding source (or sources) may be best suited for you, start your hunt with the state’s centralized point of contact. For example, the Department of Local Affairs is a great place to start in Colorado as they keep their thumb on the pulse of all statewide and federal programs offered. In many cases, they also know status of the funding source. In the state of Washington, the Infrastructure Assistance Coordinating Council offers similar resources.
Depending on which funding mechanism is being used, smaller communities may need ongoing assistance navigating all the application requirements through construction close-out. Larger communities may have the in-house resources and staff to jump through those hurdles. In either case, a qualified engineer is needed to prepare the technical documentation and analysis supporting the proposed project.
Low income communities can employ an income survey as a very inexpensive means of demonstrating that it qualifies for a lower and/or zero interest loan or, in some cases, even a grant. Community involvement and outreach is essential for these surveys. A successful survey can ultimately result in a lower loan payment, which is directly related to the customer’s monthly bill.
Some programs require more up-front preparation and soft costs than others. The key to a successful project is finding the funding sources that are best suited to the size and scope of your project. As long as soft costs are defined well in advance, the team can help align the soft costs in proportion to the capital cost of the project.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shannon Saramaa, PE, has more than 15 years of experience in civil engineering and water resources, including project management and design of municipal water and wastewater systems, water and wastewater pumping, collections and distribution, water storage, hydraulic analyses and modeling. She also adept at assisting clients with grant and loan acquisition, public buy-in, staff training and budget management. Her projects include work for utility districts, cities, institutions and other water and wastewater providers.
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