ADEM: $348 million for water, sanitation grants, more to come

From MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management announced Thursday that it had approved $348 million in grants and soft loans for 86 water and wastewater projects statewide.

Most of the money comes from the federal government, including some of the $225 million under the American Rescue Plan Act earmarked by Legislature and Gov. Kay Ivey for water and sewage earlier this year.

A total of $473 million will be awarded through ADEM this year, with more announcements in the coming months, the agency said.

“These funds will go to communities with the most urgent needs, such as those in the Black Belt, who otherwise could not afford the repairs and upgrades,” ADEM Director Lance LeFleur said in a written statement. “These projects will have a significant, positive impact on the lives of millions of Alabamaans.”

Alabama Daily News reported last month that municipalities and their utilities have applied for $3.1 billion for nearly 600 water and sanitation projects.

“We do not purport to meet all of the water and wastewater infrastructure needs in the state of Alabama,” LeFleur said in a statement Thursday. “The billions of dollars of inquiries we’ve received are many times the amount of money we have available. Projects that we cannot fund this year will be considered for funding in the coming years.”

Lawmakers and Ivey divided the $225 million in ARPA funding into three categories: $120 million for “emergency or high-need projects” sanitation systems; $100 million in matching grants; and $5 million for sewerage projects in Blackbelt.

In addition to COVID-related ARPA funding, ADEM includes in this year’s allocations $137 million from the bipartisan federal infrastructure bill approved by Congress last year. The state expects a total of $765 million in water and sanitation funding over five years.

Meanwhile, the state has about $111 million in grants and loans through a state revolving fund.

Information on each project’s funding source was not available through ADEM, but officials said Thursday APRA funds were still to be distributed.

As of Thursday, grants had been awarded to projects in 48 of the state’s 67 counties. Spreadsheets on the ADEM website list them water and channel Project applications and displays those that have been approved. Awards for a wastewater project in Mobile range from less than $100,000 to $41 million.

To date, more than $77 million in grants have been approved for Black Belt communities. These grants are non-repayable and, in most cases, do not require local matching funds. Another $45 million will later be awarded to Black Belt projects.

LeFleur told a panel of lawmakers last month that ADEM, when allocating the money, is trying to balance the needs of supply-difficulty areas while also considering the needs of growing areas.

“We are in triage mode trying to find those with the most urgent needs,” LeFleur said.

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