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Rural Water Infrastructure at Risk as More Budget Cuts Loom

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In 2019, the city of Brevard received $1 million from the state of North Carolina to undertake a stream-restoration project aimed at preventing the city's water treatment plant from being damaged by high levels of sediment. (Adobe Stock)
In 2019, the city of Brevard received $1 million from the state of North Carolina to undertake a stream-restoration project aimed at preventing the city's water treatment plant from being damaged by high levels of sediment. (Adobe Stock)
 By Nadia Ramlagan - Producer, Contact
October 8, 2020

BREVARD, N.C. -- Water systems across North Carolina are in need of repair, yet local government budgets are shrinking amid the economic fallout from the pandemic.

Advocates say federal funding is critical to ensuring rural communities have access to clean water. The last major infrastructure package passed by lawmakers expired on Sept. 30, and experts say rural communities who have already been hard hit by the coronavirus recession need more investment.

Charles Anderson, project developer for Resource Institute said local governments in rural areas have fewer tax dollars to rely on for upgrades. He noted money available for waterway restoration and infrastructure work often is in the form of loans.

"A lot of it has been loan money," Anderson explained. "And that means that if a city or town wants to improve their water resources, they have to go out here and get a loan to do that, and a lot of these communities just don't have the resources to borrow that money."

Anderson believes boosting the number of grants available to rural governments could help.

"We're finding that a lot of cities and towns and counties are using the older systems, systems that have aged out, that need to be replaced," Anderson added.

One Pew study found the nation's water systems are on the cusp of needing $100 billion worth of repairs and maintenance.

Last year, Anderson and a team of engineers undertook a stream-restoration project aimed at preventing the city of Brevard's water treatment plant from being damaged by high levels of sediment.

He said sediment is one of the biggest problems water treatment facilities have. When the cost to treat water goes up, so do household water bills, especially when communities are forced to rely on outdated infrastructure.

"What we did there was actually not only restore the stream itself around and upstream from the intake," Anderson recounted. "But created a whole new intake system for them, thereby improving the volume of water and the quality of water they received."

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it would provide $281 million to improve rural communities' water and wastewater infrastructure in North Carolina and 35 other states.

Disclosure: Resource Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on Endangered Species and Wildlife, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, and Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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