The Bulletin

EPA urges states to route water infrastructure funds to underserved communities

By: - December 8, 2021 2:25 pm

A sewer pipe that is part of Richmond’s James River Park Pipeline. (Sarah Vogelsong/Virginia Mercury)

As Virginia prepares to receive more than $126 million in infrastructure funding for water projects next year, the Environmental Protection Agency is calling on governors, including Virginia’s, to prioritize the use of funds for underserved communities.

“We know that economically stressed communities — small, large, rural, urban and suburban — often lack the financial, technical and managerial capacity to access traditional” state water and wastewater loans, EPA Administrator Michael Regan wrote in a Dec. 2 letter to Northam. “States have the power to open the door to disadvantaged communities who for too long have struggled to compete for financing.” 

Among the provisions included in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress last month is $44 billion that will be allotted in 2022 for state revolving funds.

Revolving funds are the primary tool states use to pay for water and wastewater infrastructure. Seeded by federal and state dollars, they offer low-interest loans and grants for projects such as publicly owned wastewater collection and treatment facility upgrades, water line replacements and brownfield contamination cleanup. 

Virginia is slated to get $126.4 million in 2022 through its Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. 

While rural towns and counties across the commonwealth have long struggled to finance upgrades to their water and wastewater systems, policymakers have identified Southwest Virginia, where the mountainous terrain is challenging and average incomes are among the lowest in the state, as an area of particular need

Virginia has taken some early steps toward remedying the deficiencies: beginning in 2020, the Department of Environmental Quality and State Water Control Board began channeling funds for comprehensive sewer planning to the region’s 13 counties and three cities as part of the Southwest Virginia Pilot Program. 

Other priorities highlighted in Regan’s Dec. 2 letter include the replacement of lead pipes and relief for communities impacted by PFAS contamination. 

PFAS, an abbreviation for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are synthetic chemicals used in a wide range of consumer and industrial products including food packaging, non-stick cookware, firefighting foam and water-repellent clothing. Often called “forever chemicals” because they break down slowly and can accumulate in the human body and environment, they have been linked to a range of adverse health outcomes like decreased fertility and some cancers.


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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists.