GAO Issues Rural Water Infrastructure Report

At the end of February, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a 15 page report titled Rural Water Infrastructure: Federal Agencies Provide Funding but Could Increase Coordination to Help Communities.  This ReportGAO-15-450T, is available at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-450T.

The Report was included as part of the testimony provided by Alfredo Gomez, Director of the natural Resources and Environment Team at GAO.  The testimony synthesizes GAO Reports from 2007, 2009, and 2012 with updated information through 2015 on the ability of and access to rural water infrastructure funding by smaller communities.  In general, GAO found that:

  • In some cases, small communities do not have the number of users needed to share the cost of major infrastructure projects while maintaining affordable user rates.
  • Some rural communities do not have technical expertise and have to hire consultants and engineers to help design projects and complete technical documents necessary to apply for funding.
  • Rural communities face potentially duplicative application requirements when applying to multiple state or Federal programs.

In response to these challenges, the GAO Report notes that EPA and USDA have taken, or are in the process of taking, steps to improve interagency coordination on rural water infrastructure projects, including:

  • Adopting a uniform preliminary engineering report template and guidance
  • Reviewing a draft best practices memorandum that highlights key issues, including duplication of effort reduction during the environmental review process. This is to be shared with states for review and comment in the near future.
  • Taking steps to coordinate policies and procedures to prioritize funding in the US-Mexico Border Region.

In addition, this Report notes the funding opportunities offered for small and/or rural water infrastructure projects by seven Federal agencies:  EPA’s DWSRF and CWSRF programs; USDA’s RUS Water and Waste Disposal program; HUD’s Community Development Block Grant programs; Bureau of Reclamation’s Rural Water Supply program; the Indian Health Service’s Facilities and Environmental Health Support program; the Economic Development Administration’s Public Works and Economic Development program; and the Corps of Engineers assistance through loans and technical planning services or grants.

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