Stimulus Package To Hit Sewer/Water Fast

Significant Leeway From Usual Restrictions Make Monies More Accessible
By Stephen Barlas, Washington Editor | March 2009 Vol. 64 No. 3
Water projects should increase with the latest federal stimulus package.

As the stimulus bill was working its way through Congress, there was a lot of talk that the infrastructure money – whether for roads, bridges, water or rail – ought to go to “shovel ready” projects. That term was never defined, although legislators talked in terms of projects that could be ready to break ground within 120 days. That time frame is not in the legislation. Instead, the sewer and drinking water section specifies that revolving funds should be used “expeditiously to create jobs.” To that end, states are supposed to direct emergency funds to projects on “state priority lists that are ready to proceed to construction within 12 months of enactment.” If the state gives the nod to a project, and that project is not ready to go within 12 months, the state is supposed to cancel the project and give the funds to another project which is ready to go.

The speed with which states download stimulus SRF funds to towns and cities will probably vary. Governors have to first assemble “priority lists” of projects. When it became clear the stimulus package would pass, and it would include SRF funds, some states pushed back annual application deadlines, anticipating that there would be more than the usual number of first time applicants. Those applicants would need additional time to do environmental and engineering studies necessary for a project to get National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) clearance from both the state and federal government. Ohio, for example, pushed its application deadline back from March 15 to July 1 for projects it will fund in its 2010 program year, which begins July 1, 2009.

State reactions (subhed)

Dave Bornino, manager, operations and financial assistance, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, expects that much of the state’s extra $58 million for drinking water projects will go to projects which have applied in prior years, but which were not funded. In many instances, smaller or rural cities and counties particularly have been unable in the past to come up with the 20 percent match, either because they were unsuccessful in getting grant money from a federal program such as the Community Development Block Grant program (operated by the federal Commerce Department) or because they declined to raise sewer and water rates. With the stimulus funds, however, there is no need to come up with the 20 percent match.

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