USDA Earmarks Funding for Drinking Water

The U.S. Agriculture Department is making $155.8 million in drinking water grants and loans to 87 rural communities in 38 states and Puerto Rico. Vice President Albert Gore said the funds would be distributed under the administration’s Water 2000 Initiative.

The U.S. Agriculture Department is making $155.8 million in drinking water grants and loans to 87 rural communities in 38 states and Puerto Rico. Vice President Albert Gore said the funds would be distributed under the administration’s Water 2000 Initiative.

“Safe, reliable drinking water is more than a matter of convenience. It’s critical to public health and economic development,” he said. “Through Water 2000, we are helping to build and upgrade the basic infrastructure needed to sustain rural communities.”

The federal funding will trigger another $56.5 million that local water districts, county governments, state agencies, and other federal sources will provide.

The Agriculture Department said 2.2 million rural Americans have quality and accessibility problems with their drinking water, including an estimated 730,000 people who have no running water.

About 5 million more rural residents are affected by less critical, but still significant, water problems, as defined by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

The problems include undersized or poorly protected water sources, a lack of adequate storage facilities, and antiquated distribution systems. According to department literature, young children and the elderly are at particular risk from illnesses caused by unsafe, unclean drinking water.

The Clinton administration began the Water 2000 Initiative in 1994 to help upgrade and expand drinking water service in rural communities with water quality, quantity, and dependability problems.

USDA said Water 2000 has improved drinking water quality or provided a public water supply for the first time to some 2.5 million people in more than 1,300 rural communities nationwide. USDA has granted or loaned about $1.7 billion to rural water systems since 1994.

In recent years it has targeted about $400 million at low-income rural areas where drinking and wastewater systems pose health threats, and another $400 million to less needy communities.

Legislation

Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) have introduced a bill to help remote rural communities develop their energy and water infrastructures.

Legislation

“The biggest single economic problem facing small communities is the expense of establishing a modern infrastructure. These costs, which are always substantial, are exacerbated in remote and rural areas,” Murkowski said.

Legislation

“There is a real cost in human misery and to the health and welfare of everyone, especially our children and our elderly from poor or polluted water, leaking fuel storage tanks, or an inefficient power system.

Legislation

The Rural and Remote Community Fairness Act would authorize up to $100 million per year in grant aid through the Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1999 through 2005.

Legislation

Eligible communities would be those with populations of less than 10,000 and with electric rates higher than the 150 percent of the national average retail price for electricity.

Legislation

Communities could use the funds for weatherization of homes, construction and repair of electrical facilities, construction and repair of bulk fuel storage facilities, studies of alternate energy services, and the construction, operation, maintenance and repair of water and wastewater services.

Copper levels

A dispute between Nebraska and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has spilled over into Congress. Nebraska has sued EPA to stop the agency from implementing a 1991 standard that limits copper levels in drinking water to 1.3 milligrams per liter.

Copper levels

Nebraska officials and several of the 64 water systems that received compliance orders this spring had asked the agency to relax the “action level” standard. They argued Nebraska water systems would have to spend millions of dollars to meet a criteria not supported by science.

Copper levels

In the House of Representatives, Rep. Douglas Bereuter (R-Neb.) tried to amend the EPA spending bill with a provision requiring EPA to work with the National Academy of Sciences to review scientific literature on copper in drinking water.

Copper levels

But the amendment was struck after Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) raised a point of order alleging the amendment was an attempt to legislate through an appropriations bill.

Copper levels

In the Senate, Bob Kerry (D-Neb.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) offered an amendment to the EPA funding bill to require the agency to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study and establish a reliable dose-response relationship for effects from copper exposure.

Copper levels

The Senate rejected the amendment, but the House allowed non-binding language to be included in the conference report on the bill. It requires EPA to work with the state to resolve the problem.

Copper levels

Earlier, Assistant EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe attempted to defend the rule in a letter to the Nebraska senators and Senate Environment Committee Chairman John Chafee (R-R.I.).

Copper levels

He said, “EPA continues to believe that science supports an action level of 1.3 mg/L for copper, and that the recent studies do not provide significant evidence to the contrary. We recommend an evaluation by the state to arrive at the best compliance solutions for each water system,” he wrote.

Copper levels

Perciasepe said EPA would consider variances and extensions for some of the Nebraska systems. But he rejected a proposal by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services that smaller systems be allowed to use flushing programs in lieu of treatment.

Copper levels

“Flushing is not an acceptable long-term solution for community water systems. However, we believe that flushing could potentially be a feasible alternative for certain types of noncommunity water systems,” he said.

Copper levels

Perciasepe said Nebraska would receive its state revolving funds in September and suggested that systems should apply for loans to implement corrosion control treatment.

Court case

Irvine Laudermilk, a contractor at the Arnold Engineering and Development Center in Tullahoma, Tenn., has been sentenced in Chattanooga U.S. District Court for illegally discharging waste into the Winchester, Tenn., public sewer system.

Court case

Prosecutors said although Laudermilk had a contract with the U.S. Air Force to properly dispose of grease and sanitary sewer waste at the Arnold facility, he discharged the waste into the Winchester sewer system without a permit.

Court case

He was sentenced to 10 months in jail and a year of supervised release, and he must pay $9,890 in restitution to the city of Winchester.

Court case

The city of Waldport, Ore., has pleaded guilty to federal charges that it discharged about 3.5 million gallons of water polluted with human waste and other contaminants into Lint Slough during a 2-week period in 1996.

Court case

The Justice Department said it was the first case in which an Oregon municipality has pleaded guilty to a federal environmental crime. It faces a maximum fine of up to $200,000.

Court case

William Rhoad, of Zanesville, Ohio, has been charged in U.S. District Court at Columbus with 36 counts of violating the Clean Water Act.

Court case

Between May 1993 and November 1996 he was a project engineer for TCW Co., New Lexington, Ohio, which has a contract to manage six wastewater treatment plants for Muskingum County, Ohio.

Court case

He allegedly underreported, or failed to report, levels of ammonia, fecal coliform bacteria, and other pollutants discharged over a 3-year period. He faces a maximum sentence of up to 2 years in prison and or a $10,000 fine on each count.

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