AWWA Issues Guide to Water Security Funding

Water utilities are faced with funding challenges as they work to fulfill the recommendations of their vulnerability assessments and emergency response plans.

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Water utilities are faced with funding challenges as they work to fulfill the recommendations of their vulnerability assessments and emergency response plans. They are already grappling with budgets stretched thin simply providing essential services and basic capital improvements. Most don’t have the funds to improve their security posture as they might wish.

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There is good news, though. Federal and state grant and loan money is available, but it does require that organizations be willing to uncover opportunities on their own and then pursue them vigorously.

While information on grant and loan programs is available to utilities, many still have limited knowledge regarding how they can obtain such funding for their security and emergency response upgrades. Further complicating their task, the process for distribution of security funding varies widely across the country, and the application process, eligibility requirements and allocation practices remain a mystery to many utility leaders.

The American Water Works Association recently issued a report titled Security Funding Opportunities: Lessons & Observations from Successful Water & Wastewater Utilities. The report examines the current state of security funding at both a federal and state level and identifies the best opportunities for water and wastewater utilities to obtain funding. The report includes key lessons learned from a wide variety of utilities from across the country who have successfully obtained state or federal funding to support implementation of a variety of security and preparedness programs.

The lessons and observations detailed in the report demonstrate that utility leaders can successfully obtain funding for security projects by employing a few critical strategies:

  • Be Persistent. Continue to pursue finding despite being turned down in the past. Many grants that were initially being given exclusively to fire and police are now being considered for other aspects of critical infrastructure.
  • Be Prepared: Have a risk reduction plan in place well in advance of the emergence of the specific funding opportunity. In many cases, a plan may have been initiated as part of your vulnerability assessment and having such a plan often allows the funding body to feel secure that funds are being spent on projects that will come to fruition.
  • Make End of Fiscal Year Requests. Be prepared to make requests of any remaining funds from the block grants if other recipients fail to spend all their funds before the deadline.
  • Network and Educate. Actively reach out to, and educate, the individuals that populate the funding bodies; individuals that are often unfamiliar with the water and wastewater sector. Oftentimes these individuals have been from the first responder community.
  • Tailor Your Application: Go out of your way to understand the goals of the granting organization and take the effort to tailor your application to closely match the stated funding criteria.
  • Think Outside the Box. Be inventive in packaging your projects and creative in gathering support for funding requests.
  • Use Grant Writers: Use outside help when it is warranted – often this is grant writing, or engineering help. In addition, actively follow your grant through the approval process to catch clerical errors or other snafus that could jeopardize its approval.

In talking with many utilities that have received funding, the programs most often used by water and wastewater utilities are from the Department of Homeland Security. Specifically the State Homeland Security Grant Program and the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) Grant Program have been used by numerous utilities.

Authors of the report included Shannon Spence, PE, Principal Consultant, Red Oak Consulting; Kevin Smith, Consultant, Red Oak Consulting; and Kevin Morley, Regulatory & Security Analyst, AWWA. For more information visit www.awwa.org.

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