WASHINGTON (KAMR/KCIT) – According to an October announcement to stakeholders, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development will be accepting applications for the Water and Waste Disposal Technical Assistance and Training Grants program until Nov. 13 as part of an effort to help improve water treatment and waste systems for rural people living in manufactured homes.
“This program is one of the many ways the USDA promotes a healthy community and environment with funding that makes sure people, children and families have clean water and safe sewer systems that prevent runoff and pollution,” said the USDA announcement, which included that $1 million was set aside for applications that support water and waste service sustainability related to manufactured homes.
The USDA said that the program is aimed at helping qualified, private nonprofit organizations give technical assistance and training to benefit people living in manufactured homes. Some of that assistance will focus on identifying problems and solutions to water and waste systems as well as assisting communities in preparing applications for water and waste disposal loans and grants. The program also aims to benefit management, operation, maintenance and sustainability aspects of water and waste facilities serving manufactured homes in rural areas, and address water contamination.
Published information on the program detailed that nonprofits can apply for funding that “have the proven ability, background, experience and capacity to provide technical assistance or training on a national, regional or state basis.” Those applicants also will need to operate in eligible areas, which include tribal lands in rural areas and rural areas and towns with populations of 10,000 or less.
Water infrastructure in Texas
In the Winter 2022 issue of txH2O magazine, reporters and experts discussed rural water infrastructure and wastewater systems in Texas, including some of the challenges ongoing in rural and suburban areas and the programs and organizations working to enact solutions. Not only do the articles discuss researchers looking into new sources to supplement freshwater supplies in Texas, which remains one of the most pressing issues for the state in the coming decades, but also aging water infrastructure leading to water system decentralization, comparisons between wastewater treatment plants versus on-site septic systems, and water insecurity issues while referencing the colonias at the US-Mexico border as a “canary in the coal mine.”
As reported by Chantal Cough-Schulze, researchers are pursuing unexpected sources to tackle changing freshwater availability across the globe, as some areas face drastic decreases and others an excess of water. Stormwater, salt water, sewage, and air have become points of interest for researchers to this end: Water possibly being captured and repurposed from storms and floods, desalination efforts to harvest freshwater from salt water, recovering usable freshwater from municipal wastewater, and obtaining fresh water from the air via condensation.
However, any strategy used to harvest or reuse water will also require infrastructure. As water infrastructure across the US ages and populations grow, as noted by Kerry Halladay and September Martin, many old systems and materials commonly used in the country are experiencing difficulty keeping up with growth and face a regular lack of visibility and investment. The necessary repairing or replacing water systems, or building new and more efficient systems in rural areas that are safe and affordable, will require a range of experts as well as a significant amount of funding.
That lack of funding and visibility can be seen to a more extreme degree, also reported by Cough-Schulze, in the colonias at the US-Mexico border that have experienced issues such as “municipal underbounding,” which was described by Dr. Amber Wutich – a director of the Center for Global Health at Arizona State University – as a phenomenon in which municipalities do not extend core city services like water and wastewater to new communities within their official boundaries.
The colonias, which are incorporated subdivisions on the border that were developed in the mid-20th century and often never received promised water utilities and other infrastructure, have relied on boots-on-the-ground efforts to haul water or set up new decentralized systems for water collection and reuse.
A common thread that remains among many topics related to Texas and water systems, as well as the US and water systems as a whole, is a lack of funding for infrastructure and a lack of resources for the growing number of people who are not connected to municipal water systems in the first place. However, local, state, and federal-level actions such as grant funding and localized community support projects may contribute to productive responses to water crises and the building of long-term water sustainability.
Water and grants on the High Plains
On the High Plains, over 70% of counties consist of mostly rural areas and towns with populations amounting to less than 10,000, according to published census information. According to the published information from the USDA, that means that nonprofits in the majority of counties and communities across the High Plains could be eligible for the Technical Assistance and Training Program grants.
For the Fiscal Year 2022, according to the USDA, there are currently no projects recommended for funding that are based in Texas. However, three projects related to the National Rural Water Association, based in Oklahoma, were recommended for funding in the program. These included the National Rural Water Association projects focused on expanding the number of technicians providing service in rural communities, developing energy efficiency optimization recommendations for utility systems in 28 states, and fostering career pathways for water workers through the National Apprenticeship/Workforce Development Program.
Across the Texas Panhandle and North Texas, there are at least 23 Groundwater Conservation Districts focused on managing community water resources and working toward sustainable long-term systems to supply the region’s needs. For those districts and across the rest of Texas, water managers and other experts have discussed in-depth the need for extra funding and attention to be put toward water-related issues. Legislative and other policy focus from many experts have been aimed at promoting that increased funding and attention for water during upcoming Texas legislative sessions and preparing for the next Farm Bill, but the day-to-day need for money and resources on a ground level remains a present and ongoing situation.
Although the USDA’s grant allocation for rural and manufactured home water and waste treatment projects is $1 million, which may not cover some costs when split up across a range of projects across the nation, providing financial assistance to nonprofits that are actively working to respond to water insecurity in underserved areas can be a boon to those projects while other policies and legislative actions are pending. Further, USDA noted that other grant funding for rural water and wastewater organizations may be available for the Fiscal Year 2023 depending on the budget passed by Congress.
Aside from the USDA’s rural water and wastewater grant funding, the Texas Water Development Board hosts a resource page and offers a variety of loan and grant programs focused on the planning, acquisition, design, and construction of water-related infrastructure. The USDA Rural Development in Texas also hosts water and waste disposal loan and grant opportunities for which many nonprofits, state and local government entities, and federally-recognized tribes are eligible to apply.