WASHINGTON - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack celebrated Earth Day Tuesday by announcing record support for 116 projects that will improve water and wastewater services for rural Americans and benefit the environment.
"Having reliable, clean and safe water is essential for any community to thrive and grow," Vilsack said. "I am proud that USDA helps build rural communities from the ground up by supporting water infrastructure projects like these. I am especially proud that we can help communities that are struggling economically and those that have urgent health and safety concerns due to their failing water systems."
The announcement is USDA's largest Earth Day investment in rural water and wastewater systems. Nearly $387 million is being awarded to 116 recipients in 40 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The Department is providing $150 million in grants through the 2014 Farm Bill plus $237 million in loans and grants from USDA's Water and Environmental Program.
Also noteworthy this year are USDA's accomplishments to help communities with the greatest needs. Sixteen of the Earth Day projects are in areas of persistent poverty. Twenty-nine are in communities served by USDA's "StrikeForce Initiative for Rural Growth and Opportunity." StrikeForce is a USDA initiative to reduce poverty by increasing investments in rural communities through intensive outreach and stronger partnerships with community leaders, businesses, foundations and other groups that are working to combat poverty.
Climate change in particular is putting more stress on municipal water systems. Many areas around the country have seen changes in rainfall, resulting in more floods, droughts, declines in snowpack, intense rain, as well as more frequent and severe heat waves. All of these are placing fiscal strains on communities, causing them to make more frequent (and often more expensive) repairs and upgrades.
Among projects funded this year, six are in the State of West Virginia and five of those six projects lie in persistent poverty areas that are part of USDA's StrikeForce Initiative for Rural Growth and Opportunity:
Midland Public Service District, Randolph County, is receiving a loan of $2,880,000 and a grant of $1,000,000 to completely finance the extension of water service to approximately 132 households and improve service to eight existing customers. Construction will involve six separate water line extensions, one water storage tank, one booster station, and five pressure reducing stations.
Pendleton County Public Service District, Pendleton County, will receive a loan of $500,000 and grant of $850,000 to partially finance the project to extend public water and fire protection service to approximately 107 rural households and businesses. The project involves construction of ten miles of waterline, one water storage tank, and a pressure reducing valve vault.
Pleasant Hill Public Service District, Calhoun County, is receiving a loan of $415,000 and grant of $1 million to partially finance the extension of water service to approximately 42 additional households within the Leaf Bank, Upper Back Fork and Leading Creek areas of Calhoun County. Funding will also be used to replace 8,200 feet of deteriorating water main.
Mingo County Public Service District, Mingo County, is receiving a grant of $528,440 to partially finance the extension of public water service to approximately 247 households and small businesses. The project will involve the installation of 11 miles of various size waterline, one water storage tank and one booster station.
Ellenboro-Lamberton Public Service District, Ritchie County, will receive a loan of $470,000 and a grant of $383,500 to partially finance the project to resplace certain sections of waterline and extend public water service to an additional 28 households. The project will involve the removal and replacement of 4,600 feet of deteriorated waterline, the installation of 18,400 feet of new waterline to service the additional customers, and the placement of new control and pressure reducing valves.
Crum Public Service District, Wayne County, is receiving a grant of $900,000 to partially finance the extension of public water service to approximately 132 households, small businesses and an elementary school. The project will involve the installation of approximately 15 miles of various size waterline and necessary accessories.
Earth Day is observed annually on April 22 to raise awareness about the role each person can play to protect vital natural resources and safeguard the environment. Since the first Earth Day celebration in 1970, the event has expanded to include citizens and governments in more than 195 countries.
USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, has a portfolio of programs designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America.