Stimulus Bill Funding for Green Projects

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by Blair Hurst, Walsh Environmental

(Information compiled from American Rivers website publications – The Economic Stimulus Bill and Rivers; and Stimulus and Water Infrastructure Fact Sheet. Available at: http://act.americanrivers.org)

On February 17, 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (AARA), often referred to as the Stimulus Bill, was enacted in to law. It is designed to create jobs and help the economy recover from the worsening recession. A portion of spending is being allocated to wastewater and drinking water infra.structure, and to ecosystem restoration. This funding will allow communities to invest in critical water systems that have been neglected for too long as a result of insufficient funding and rapid development. The Stimulus Bill also provides the opportunity to address decade’s worth of damage done to our nation’s rivers through funding for habitat restoration. Removing outdated dams, retrofitting inadequate culverts, and investing in natural approaches to flood management will create jobs in a variety of fields, build more resilient communities, and provide significant benefit to our river and riparian ecosystems.

What Funding is Available and How Will it be Distributed?
The AARA includes significant funding for clean water, drinking water, and habitat restoration programs.

Clean Water and Drinking Water:
The stimulus package includes $4 billion for clean water projects and $2 billion for nationwide drinking water projects. Most of the funding for clean water and drinking water programs and infrastructure is being distributed through an existing program known as the State Revolving Fund Program (SRF) that is administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Historically, the EPA has regularly distributed federal SRF grants to the states, who then lend the money at below-market level rates to local governments to repair or upgrade wastewater, stormwater and drinking water infrastructure. The Stimulus Bill creates a new dedicated source of funding for green infrastructure and water and energy efficiency projects within the SRF. The Bill does this by requiring that 20 percent of the total $6 billion ($1.2 billion) be applied towards a mandatory set-aside for green infrastructure, water or energy efficiency improvements, or other environmentally innovative activities. These projects are collectively known as the Green Project Reserve, and provide an important new opportunity to meet water-related infrastructure needs in an environmentally sound manner.

Of the total $6 billion, a full 50% of the funds also must be reserved for principal forgiveness or negative interest rate loans, or for grants to project applicants. However, it is up to each state whether they provide any of this additional subsidization for green projects, or just for conventional projects. The opportunity and challenge in the coming months will be to ensure that this unprecedented green funding is spent, and spent wisely, by all states.

How Does the SRF Stimulus Program Work?
Before EPA can release an allotment of SRF funding to the state, each state must submit to EPA a list of projects it intends to fund as part of what is called an Intended Use Plan (IUP). If a state does not yet have a full complement of green projects equal to its 20% set-aside, it must “actively solicit” such projects, and file an amended IUP later. Finally, states enter into loan agreements with individual project applicants. The state must have such binding loan agreements and project construction must be ready to commence within one year of the bill’s signing (February 17, 2010), otherwise the EPA Administrator will deobligate any uncommitted funds and reallocate them to other states.

Ecosystem and Habitat Restoration:
The stimulus package includes over $1.6 billion for projects addressing ecosystem and habitat restoration. Funding has been provided to various governmental agencies, and includes the following:

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): $230 million for operations, research, and facilities including addressing backlog in habitat restoration and other activities. Up to $170 million dollars is currently available for habitat restoration projects. NOAA will disburse restoration funding through a 30-day competitive direct solicitation. Additional information on coastal and marine habitat restoration funding is available on the NOAA website at:http://www.habitat.noaa.gov/restoration/programs/recoveryact.html
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS): $115 million for priority construction, repair, habitat restoration and other activities on Service properties; $165 million for priority critical deferred maintenance, capital improvements, habitat restoration and other activities on Service properties.
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS): $50 million for the Watershed Rehabilitation Program; $290 million for structural and nonstructural watershed infrastructure improvements, including purchase and restoration of floodplain easements. Up to $145 million is available nationwide to create jobs and restore an estimated 60,000 acres of frequently flooded land to its natural state. No more than $30 million of the floodplain purchase money can be used in any one state. Additional information on floodplain easements is available on the NRCS website at: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/ewp/Floodplain/index.html
  • U.S. Forest Service (USFS): $650 million for priority road, bridge and trail maintenance, including related watershed restoration and ecosystem enhancements projects. This funding will create about 10,800 jobs, primarily in rural areas and in the construction, maintenance, forestry and restoration industries. The work accomplished will improve water quality for hundreds of community water systems, which receive their water from national forest watersheds, and enhance the use and quality of national forest lands nationwide. Further information is published on the USFS website under “Economic Recovery” at: http://www.fs.fed.us/
  • Bureau of Reclamation (BLM): $125 million for activities including maintenance, rehabilitation, and restoration of facilities, properties, trails and lands, and for remediation of abandoned mines and wells.

What You Can Do to Leverage Clean Water and Drinking Water SRF
Each state must be ready to move the funding quickly, or the funding will revert back to the administrator. Currently it appears that the window is very small, as the EPA is requiring states to get their lists in very quickly. At the moment, these appear to be draft lists and there does appear to be some opportunities to extend deadlines, so there may still be an opportunity to influence the lists and projects later. However, the deadlines depend on how the EPA interprets the final bill and deadlines are likely to be very short. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the final interpretation of the bill, it is important to try to get as many green projects as possible on these lists! So here is what you can do:

  • Contact your state’s clean water and drinking water revolving loan fund officers. Contacts for each fund are listed below.
  • Find out if the state has approved SRF funding to be used for green infrastructure or water efficiency projects. EPA policy already allows this, but each state may need to enable such funding if it isn’t already operative.
  • Ask your state SRF managers what projects on the list would qualify as green infrastructure or water efficiency projects and ask them to actively solicit for more of these types of projects.
  • If there are no or few green infrastructure projects on your states list, work with local municipalities to submit their green infrastructure or water efficiency projects. You can also find relevant state projects on American Rivers’ green infrastructure project list at http://www.americanrivers.org/.

Each of these programs represents an exciting new opportunity for progress towards not only a greener, more sustainable water infrastructure, but also towards improving and protecting the quality of our water at the source. The potential benefits to our streams and riparian areas, and to the habitats they support, will hopefully be the start of a new and long-lasting legacy to the environment.

Clean Water SRF
Colorado

Michael Brod
CO Water Resources and Power Development Authority
303.830.1550      , mbrod@cwrpda.com
Erick Worker
Department of Public Health and Environment
303.692.3594      , erick.worker@state.co.us
Barry Cress
Colorado Department of Local Affairs
303.866.2352      , barry.cress@state.co.us

Wyoming

Brian Mark
Department of Environmental Quality
307.777.6371      , bmark@state.wy.us
Rob Tompkins
Office of State Lands and Investments
307.777.6646      , rtompk@state.wy.us
Debby Dickson
Office of State Lands and Investments
307.777.6373      , ddicks@state.wy.us

Drinking Water SRF
Colorado – Refer to Clean Water SRF Contacts

Wyoming

Wade VerPlancke
Water Development Office
307.777.7626      , wverpl@state.wy.us

In addition, refer to WY Clean Water SRF Officers